Reviewed on 2007 February 4
I like most things Joel and Ethan Coen made, but I have a soft spot for this movie.
Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is a Minnesota car salesman who’s in financial trouble, the kind with lots of zeroes and decimals involved. His need for cash overrides his judgement, and he hires two thugs named Carl Showalter and Gaer Grimsrud (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife. He assures them his father-in-law Wade (Harve Presnell) is loaded and will pay a lot of nice cold cash to get his little Jean (Kristen Rudrüd) back. We never find out why he can’t just get the money from Wade, but we realize he’s deep in something. Lundegaard will give them a chunk of the ransom money and a new car off the lot if they just stash his wife somewhere — and not hurt her — until Wade coughs up the money. Unfortunately, there seems to be only one brain between all four men. Everything imaginable that can go wrong, does. Their largest problem comes along in the form of Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), a pregnant, persistent, and relentlessly cheerful cop who’s not going to let anything stop her from investigating the fallout from this idiotic scheme. She announces to her colleagues that morning sickness and food cravings from hell aren’t going to prevent her from figuring out what’s going on.
I’m glad Frances McDormand got the Best Actress award for this, and I’m good with the Coens taking home the Oscar® for Best Screenplay, even if they did play their own prank on the audience. I’ve watched this many times but I have a hard time thinking of it as a comedy, even a pitch-black one. Parts of it are very funny and McDormand is brilliant. I still felt like I was kicked in the stomach the first time I watched it. I’ll admit a lot of this may be the effect of that cold snowy landscape. The opening shot is eerie in its own way and sets the mood for the rest of the movie. The only thing bleaker (and colder) than all the snow is Stormare’s expressionless face.
Three chocolate morsels.