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Fargo (Remastered Edition) Blu-ray Review

Fargo (1996) movie poster Fargo

Theatrical Release: March 8, 1996 / Running Time: 98 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Joel Coen / Writers: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Cast: Frances McDormand (Marge Gunderson), William H. Macy (Jerry Lundegaard), Steve Buscemi (Carl Showalter), Harve Presnell (Wade Gustafson), Peter Stormare (Gaear Grimsrud), Kristin Rudrüd (Jean Lundegaard), Tony Denman (Scotty Lundegaard), Steven Reevis (Shep Proudfoot), Warren Keith (voice of Reilly Diefenbach), Larry Brandenburg (Stan Grossman), John Carroll Lynch (Norm Gunderson), Bruce Bohne (Lou), Steve Park (Mike Yanagita), José Feliciano (Himself), Bain Boehlke (Mr. Mohra)

Buy Fargo from Amazon.com: Remastered Blu-ray • Special Edition DVD • Instant Video

Fargo is the film that seems to have established Joel and Ethan Coen as an important and recognizable brand of cinema. This 1996 dark crime comedy earned the filmmaking siblings
their first Academy Award nominations and win in addition to their highest box office gross to date. They've since experienced bigger accolades and greater commercial success, but Fargo remains one of their best-known and mostly highly regarded works.

Billing itself as a true story that occurred in 1987 (a claim that was linked to, but later debunked, the 2001 freezing death of a Japanese woman allegedly looking for buried treasure), the film briefly opens in the snowy titular North Dakota city. There, Minneapolis car dealer Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) meets Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare), a couple of criminals who are puzzled by his plan which involves him paying them $40,000 to kidnap and ransom his wife. Racked with desperation involving some never fully clarified workplace malfeasance, Jerry needs to tap into the riches of his wife's loaded father (Harve Presnell), but knows he'll get nowhere by asking.

With grocery bags in hand, Minneapolis car dealer Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) comes home to find the scene of a crime he arranged in "Fargo." Chatty Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and quiet Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) make for unlikely partners in crime.

Jerry's legitimate alternate plan, to open a parking lot with his father-in-law's help, shows promise until it becomes clear that the two sides aren't remotely on the same page. By then, the talkative Carl and laconic Gaear have already abducted Mrs. Lundegaard (Kristin Rudrüd). Some minor but critical mistakes begin piling up and with them, dead bodies. Highly pregnant Brainerd police chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) begins investigating a trio of roadside murders in her town and looking for the suspects.

Fargo is a Coen movie through and through. You can easily find parallels between it, the brothers' debut feature Blood Simple., and their 2007 Best Picture-winning Cormac McCarthy adaptation No Country for Old Men. What distinguishes Fargo from the other two are its setting, the Upper Midwest where the two grew up, and its tone, which is quite comedic. Most of the Coens' movies have laughs and some (e.g. The Big Lebowski, Burn After Reading) are quite transparent in their quest for them, even while taking their deadly plots seriously.

Fargo sustains an atmosphere of comic mayhem. People get hurt and die, sometime in brutal ways. Everyone takes their work seriously. Nonetheless, quirky flavor lightens this rather dark material, making it more palatable than you would think.

Pregnant Brainerd police chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) happens upon an unsettling scene in the climax of "Fargo."

The Coens' affectionate send-up of their home state undoubtedly has registered as the big screen's definitive portrayal of Minnesota. It's a place where everyone talks funny and watches the Gophers (as in the University of Minnesota's hockey team).
There are all-you-can-eat buffets and an unsettling statue of Paul Bunyan stands guard by the road. People remain polite and courteous, even when they're lying and endangering.

It's all exaggerated, to be sure, and the region has already evolved since this movie (and its presumably 1987 setting, which is never strongly felt). But the amusing depiction is definitely not a Coen invention like their editor Roderick Jaynes or this not remotely true story. The Coens have a real affinity for places and this one more than some of their other settings, painting an observant portrait of the state they called home until leaving to attend college in the Northeast in the 1970s. The fascinating contrast between this frozen, friendly backdrop and the sordid half-baked detective novel crime plot add much intrigue and value to the proceedings, while distinguishing them from countless more generic mystery/thrillers.

So acclaimed was Fargo that despite opening in March, about as far as possible from the serious movie season, the film remained in the minds of critics and award organizations. It picked up a staggering eight Academy Award nominations, by far the most recognition a Coen brothers movie had thus far received. (Up until then, despite a good deal of love from the Cannes Film Festival, only Barton Fink had received any Oscar nominations.) Fargo wound up winning two, the brothers for Best Original Screenplay and McDormand, Joel's wife, for Best Lead Actress.

Despite her top billing, it's a little strange for McDormand, who doesn't show up until one-third into the movie, to have been nominated for Lead Actress and Macy, who's around start to finish and terrific throughout, to wind up in the supporting category. That might have hurt Macy's chances; he lost to Jerry Maguire's Cuba Gooding Jr., while Shine's Geoffrey Rush won Lead Actor. The English Patient took Best Picture in a decision that seems easy to question now, when its second biggest claim to fame may be for its role in a late "Seinfeld" episode. It's pretty impressive for Fargo to have even been nominated for Best Picture, its dark, genre-bending content and early release date not all conforming to Oscar conventions. Fargo went on to become the youngest film to crack the American Film Institute's initial "100 Years...100 Movies" countdown of greatest American films in 1998, though it was dropped for the 2007 re-vote.

Released to Blu-ray in May 2009 and then repackaged August 2010 as a Blu-ray + DVD combo, Fargo got a new remastered Blu-ray edition earlier this month. One can only assume that this release was timed to next week's premiere of FX's new hour-long "Fargo" television series starring Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman with the Coen brothers executive-producing. Oddly, though, that debut goes altogether unmentioned on this release and even its packaging.

Fargo: Remastered Edition Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen / 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), 5.1 DTS (French, Castilian, German, Italian), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish, French Canadian, Portuguese), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English), Dolby 1.0 (Hungarian)
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, French Canadian, Castilian, Dutch, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Bulgarian, Chinese Traditional & Simplified, Croatian, Czech, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Thai, Turkish
Not Closed Captioned; Most Extras Subtitled in English, French, Spanish, Dutch, German, Italian, and Portuguese
Release Date: April 1, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50) / Blue Keepcase
Also available as Special Edition DVD ($14.98 SRP; September 30, 2003) and Instant Video
Previously released in Coen Brothers Blu-ray Collection (August 30, 2011), and as Blu-ray + DVD (BD Case, DVD Case) (August 3, 2010); Blu-ray (May 12, 2009); and DVD (August 15, 2000)


I can only imagine that this remastered release offers a significant improvement over the film's previous Blu-ray. The 1.85:1 picture is absolutely terrific, showcasing Roger Deakins' Oscar-nominated cinematography without any hint that it's nearly twenty years old. Clean, sharp, vibrant and filmic, this is as good a 1080p transfer of a '90s film that I've seen.

The default 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix is equally delightful. Fargo may not be a movie you expect top-notch sound from, but the dialogue remains crisp and full-bodied, while Carter Burwell's haunting score expands nicely. Fox has characteristically loaded the disc with dubs and subtitles, far more than the three languages it lists on the case (the massive complete list appears above).

Peter Stormare recalls his excitement at discovering Swedish culture while filming in Minnesota. American Cinematographer's article gives us detailed insight into Roger Deakins' work on this and earlier Coen brothers films.


This edition neither gains nor loses anything from the film's previous Blu-ray Disc.

The handful of extras begin with a 2002 audio commentary by the Coens' go-to director of photography Roger A. Deakins.
The Coens don't do commentary, so this is the next best thing, unless you prefer the Blood Simple. approach of fictitious artistic directors. Deakins recalls filming locations, the use of storyboards, lighting, the Coens' lack of self-revision, and so on. He doesn't have enough to sustain the entire track and lulls grow in length as the film progresses. By the end, you're mostly just hearing the film's soundtrack.

The most substantial of the disc's few video extras, "Minnesota Nice" (27:47, SD) is a 2003 documentary. Gathering then-new interviews from much of the key personnel, including both Coens, McDormand, Macy, and Stormare (basically everyone except Buscemi, who still speaks from the set), this comments on the film's setting, its not so true story, the cast and their characters, filming snow in an extremely mild winter, the Coens' process, and their Academy Awards experience. McDormand even gives mention to the Japanese woman's death. This is presented in 1.33:1 with film clips letterboxed within that portion.

A trivia track dispenses pop-up facts throughout the film pertaining to what's onscreen. Produced for the film's 2003 Special Edition DVD and adapted to take advantage of Blu-ray's superior graphic technology, the track definitely enhances a repeat viewing of the film. The translucent colored boxes cover everything from the specifics of the winter 1995 production and recurring themes in the Coens' canon to the actual origin of the name "Arby's", the correct pronunciation of "Buscemi" (either you've been saying it wrong or he has), and tips for surviving a kidnapping.

Created by Robert Rasmussen, the track has fun purveying some Coen brothers' myths, sharing biographical details about their fictional editor Roderick Jaynes and the true story dramatized here, though it eventually comes clean on both points (revealing that save for one Connecticut incident involving a wood chipper, the whole thing is made-up). While its facts and figures are somewhat outdated (the most recent year cited is 2001), it's still a valuable inclusion that most studios wouldn't bother converting and preserving for Blu-ray.

"Cold-Blooded Scheming", a 1996 article from American Cinematographer, is presented, complete with photographs, over 37 high quality text screens which you can manually page through (or use an auto advance option, which sounds unpromising). It discusses Deakins' work on the film and his earlier collaborations with the Coens.

The Coen brothers have a laugh in Jerry Lundegaard's office while Paul Bunyan looks on in this photo gallery shot. The remastered Fargo Blu-ray's menu places a layer of ice over a shot of the Minneapolis skyline.

Also giving you manual and auto advance options is a photo gallery consisting of 70 color behind-the-scenes images from production that are placed next to the film's "Welcome to Brainerd" Paul Bunyan statue.

The extras conclude with Gramercy Pictures' theatrical trailer (1:58) and a TV spot for the film (0:32, SD).

While everything from the previous Blu-ray is retained here, a few items from the 2003 Special Edition DVD are lost: Charlie Rose's 20-minute interview with the Coens and McDormand and a hidden alternate menu.
In addition, it probably goes without saying but a 4-page booklet with production notes from MGM's original 2000 DVD release of the film also doesn't resurface in any way.

The disc opens with a promo for MGM's 90th Anniversary but oddly nothing for FX's "Fargo."

No slipcover, reverse side artwork, or inserts accompany the eco-friendly keepcase, which at least earns cool points for making use of the film's nifty cross stitch theatrical poster, easily becoming its coolest cover art to date.

The predominantly white scored menu plays wintry outdoor clips under icy overlays. The Blu-ray kindly both resumes playback (following the Fox logo) and allows you to set bookmarks.

Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) does not appreciate a last-minute change in plans for the ransom payout. Oh sure, ya gotta fuel up at Hardee's.


Like many Coen brothers movies, Fargo is strange, beautiful, cinematic, and certainly not everyone's cup of tea. This actually might be their least divisive film, as evidenced by its current standing halfway down the IMDb's all-time Top 250. Whether you recognize and appreciate the Upper Midwest flavor or simply find the story and characters captivating, you are likely to consider this a distinctive and substantial film that sticks with you and benefits from multiple viewings.

Those who want to own Fargo on Blu-ray but dragged their feet probably get a slightly better picture quality on this release without gaining or losing any extras. I'm not sure it's enough to warrant a repurchase for those owning the previous Blu-ray, but an upgrade from DVD or first-time purchase might be in order depending on your love of the film, your A/V standards, and your home theater setup.

Buy Fargo from Amazon.com: Remastered Blu-ray / Special Edition DVD / Instant Video

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
The Coen Brothers: The Big Lebowski • Blood Simple. • No Country for Old Men • A Serious Man • True Grit • Inside Llewyn Davis • Hail, Caesar!
1990s Best Picture Nominees: The Insider • Forrest Gump • Braveheart • The Thin Red Line • Ghost • Four Weddings and a Funeral
1990s Films: The Ice Storm • The Usual Suspects • Dead Man • Ed Wood • The Game • Jackie Brown • Primal Fear• Ransom • Rushmore
Steve Buscemi & Peter Stormare: Armageddon | Peter Stormare: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters | Shot by Roger Deakins: Prisoners

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Reviewed April 10, 2014.

Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1996 Polygram Filmed Entertainment, Gramercy Pictures, Working Title Films,
and 2014 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and 20t Century Fox Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.