Fargo (1996) versus Fargo (2014)

fargo movie poster

After spending the last two months watching FX series Fargo, I finally watched the Coen Brothers’ film Fargo (1996) last night. I was surprised how tonally different the two were. In the film, William H. Macy’s character Jerry Lundegaard hatches a hair brained scheme to have his wife kidnapped and ransomed, and his plan is seriously derailed by a sociopath hitman Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare), an overbearing father-in-law (Harve Presnell), and hardworking police chief (Frances McDormand). In the series, a stiff cold wind named Lorne Malvo blows into the small town of Bemidiji and actively and intentionally sows chaos by murdering a local businessman. It is a comparison between a film about bad choices and unfortunate events, and a series about the nature of predators and prey.
I remember writing that the Fargo series was no where as sexy as True Detective, but the film is it’s even dumpier older cousin. It was slow and plodding, solidly written but not the sort of dialogue you want to quote at a dinner party. The characters and scope are smaller, and it evokes the feelings of foolishness and incompetence.
The Fargo series is an extrapolation of all that is bright and sparkling in the film, and expanding these moments in terms of coldness, humor, and absurdity. The one story Marge tells her deputy about the license plates becomes a vehicle for folksy wisdom and meditations served up nearly every episode. The taciturn Gaear Grimsrud can be seen as the inspiration for the deaf Mr Wrench and the psychopath Lorne Malvo. Steve Buscemi’s chatty Carl Showalter is the inspiration for Mr Numbers. Echoes of Mike Yanagita (Steve Park) aww shucks earnestness are found in Nygaard’s second wife Linda Park and his exchange with Marge parallels Molly’s dinner with old friend in episode three “A Muddy Road.”
It is difficult to compare the two, because the priorities of the two pieces are so different. The film can be compared to a hole-in-the wall restaurant with its very strong sense of self. It has a take it or leave it mentality, that neither tries to please nor pander. It flows at its own meandering pace. In contrast, the tv series seems so much more commercialized with glossy production values and larger than life characters that is the mainstay of “quality television.” It is loud in the exactly opposite ways that Fargo as film is largely unassuming, and they are united with periodic bursts of violence and a tundra-like setting.
Fargo the film is based firmly in reality, while the series seems to take the whiteness as a blank canvas that can seemingly swallow up bucketfuls of mythology, folklore, and supernatural magic logic. I prefer the series over the film, but I do want to stress that much of the most memorable qualities of the film are lost in the translation/ continuation to film; mostly the slice of life quality that contributes to the atmosphere of quiet/disquiet.
Overall, it feels like a film from another era and it’s not quite fair to compare it to a TV series. Like Steve Buscemi’s face, it is inexplicably weird. The performances of a panicky William H Macy, unflappable Frances McDormand, and small time crook way over his head, Steve Buscemi, were great to watch. It is a film with the exception of Gaear Grimsrud, about ordinary people just trying to get by.
Carrot Quality Rating
Cupcake Enjoyment Rating

Do what do you like better? The Fargo Series or Fargo the movie?

Fargo (1996) Review
  • Plot
  • Characters
  • Cinematography
  • Soundtrack
  • Themes/ Motifs

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