Yah, Here is My Review of The Best Darn Tootin Companion to the Film Fargo (1996)…
This post is part of a blog tour on a book about this cult movie from the Coen Brothers.
Fargo Official Trailer #1 – Steve Buscemi Movie (1996) HD, Movieclips Trailer Vault and photos © Gramercy Pictures
Some films are remembered for happy, heartwarming scenes relating to love and family. These for me include the scene where Captain Von Trapp dances with Maria in The Sound of Music (1965). Or any of those Doris Day and James Garner movies, be it The Thrill of it All (1963) or Move Over Darling (1963). This is not any of those movies.
You may however consider this a happy scene for the character, Gaear Grimsrud in the film Fargo (1996). On appearances, he seems quite content in his iconic scene with a woodchipper… But that’s all I will say of this well-known scene, so there are no spoilers in this post. Fargo is just one of those films that once you’ve seen it you can watch repeatedly, noticing more and more little details adding up to the cult black comedy.
This timeless film is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. It was directed by the Coen brothers, who were brought up in Minneapolis, a suburb of Minnesota. The film set in nearby, Fargo (North Dakota) and Brainerd. The film stars Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare and William H. Macy.
Just recently I was invited to join a book tour for the Polaris publication, And It’s A Beautiful Day, A Fargo Companion by Nige Tassell. His book is a film companion to this 1996 film. I reviewed this film myself, HERE and gave my thoughts on this film and the cast. However, I’ll briefly describe the film here.
The film is set in 1987, as a desperate car salesman with money problems, Jerry Lundegaard (Macy) meets with two shady looking men in a bar in Fargo. He hires these men, the gobby Carl Showalter (Buscemi) and superquiet Gaear Grimsrud (Stormare) to kidnap his wife, Jean. Jerry states that his wealthy father in law, Wade will pay the ransom. Jerry will give them half the intended ransom money of 80 thousand dollars and the car and he will pocket the rest.
However, things don’t go as smoothly as Jerry wishes. Just before the kidnapping, Jerry believes he will get the money he needs from his father in law. He is unable to call the kidnapping off. So Jean is kidnapped by Carl and Gaear – leaving chaos in their wake – and these two men drive to a lakeside hut near Brainerd. On the way, they are stopped by a state trooper, who questions Carl for not displaying the car’s tags.
The state trooper gets suspicious believing Carl is trying to bribe him. As the state trooper hears Jean (who is tied up and blindfolded in the passenger seat), he leans into the car to investigate, Gaear shoots him dead. As Carl moves this man’s body outside the car, he is witnessed by two people in a passing car. Gaear follows their car and then shoots them dead.
On his return home, Jerry phones his father in law Wade and tells him about the kidnapping claiming the kidnappers want a million dollars. Meanwhile, Marge Gunderson (McDormand), a happily married, pregnant Minnesotan police chief is woken from her sleep. She sets off for work (after a hearty breakfast made by her husband) to investigate these roadside homicides…
And now to my review on this wonderful companion book of the film, where Tassell conveys the theme of this movie as a
“battle of modest domesticity vs greedy ambition”.
This description readily conveys the film plot and the characters and is seen in contrastingly different ways. “Modest domesticity” is seen in scenes with Marge and her loving husband and “greedy ambition” shown in the characters of Gaear, Carl and Jerry. The title of this book relates to a line of dialogue from a character in this film.
In Tassell’s introduction to his book tells how this author first saw this film on its opening day in 1996. He saw it in a cinema in New Orleans with his future wife. Fargo would become the multi award winning film that would establish the Coen Brothers as writers, directors and producers. The time and location of this Coen Brothers film, immediately connected with this author as in 1987, he lived in Minnesota.
Tassell’s bond with the film strengthened as he recognised and recalled the familiar climate, local landmarks, distinctive accent and phrases and the use of Minnesota Nice in the film. His passion for this film is felt in his warm descriptions of these attributes when he writes about this movie. Tassell’s personal knowledge of these film locations and those plot devices add to his close affinity with the film. This feeling resonates throughout the book.
The book writes about the film in forty three short chapters with informative titles such as “Gods Icebox” and “Minnesota Nice”. These chapters explain the relevance of the weather and Minnesota Nice in the film respectively. Other engaging chapters are titled using relevant quotes from the film.
The book firstly explores the truth behind the “true story” that the Coen Brothers based this film on. The crimes seen throughout this film plot were researched by examining true and established facts. These facts are outlined and then compared to previously documented interviews with the Coen brothers and film reviews of this movie.
The film plot is relayed in minute detail. The film’s key concepts and plot devices are explained and discussed when relevant, with vivid descriptions that the Fargo film fan will easily concur with. Tassell also outlines other films and their characters, along with those from other films when this needed to strengthen his arguments.
The films opening musical theme soundtrack was described fantastically and aptly. Tassell suggests that the opening notes lead to a later musical theme that Tassell believes is “more appropriate to a Civil War epic”. Having recently seen a film set around this time, The Warrant (2020), I agree with Tassell. This comment and other vivid writing from this author were often so apt and in tune with my own thoughts of this much loved movie.
Tassell then describes the characters, Jerry, Carl and Gaear. Again Tassell describes these characters in such a way you don’t have to see the film to visualise these men and understand their characters. For example, Tassell describes Gaear as “a polar bear in a frozen landscape” which hits the nail on the head perfectly with this description of this film’s deadliest character and the film’s location in just a few words.
The author also asserts a wonderful, convincing argument that Carl, is in fact the same man as Mr Pink from Reservoir Dogs (1992). Mr Pink was also played by Buscemi. This is not as they both played by Buscemi, but in their similar behaviours which are seen in both movies. This argument concurred with my thoughts on this character.
A description for Marge also written so appropriately as
“Not all superheroes wear capes, some wear parkas, mittens and fur lined boots”
Other Coen films with similar themes to Fargo, such as their films relating to kidnapping are also outlined. There are wonderful personal anecdotes and biographical details which relate to the author and to the Coen brothers’ life stories.
Tassell reveals the impact of the film on the cities and the American states that the film was based on and how this film affected both him and the audience. There are also mentions of the film actors and actresses from Fargo concerning their careers both before and after this film. These additions were both a nice touch.
However, my favourite chapter was one where the author gives his epilogue to those characters who lived to the end of the movie. This showing one of the methods, used as Tassell relates to this film story through fact and fiction.
As he outlined the story of this film, Tassell also shed light on scenes and little details of this film that had puzzled me then or I hadn’t noticed on my first viewing. These explanations and observations were noted, and seen on my second watch of this movie, immediately after reading this book. Tassell also briefly mentions those scenes which were not seen in the final cut and he also writes about the casting choices of the principal roles.
Other explanations were given to plot devices in this movie, there were a few that I had believed were fictional but were in fact recorded truths. The author outlines their relevance and context in this film. There were also useful chapters explaining the Minnesotan accent and the Minnesota Nice and their relevance in the film. With Tassell and his book companion, I felt more engaged with this film than I did when I first watched this film.
I read this book from cover to cover in one day, after which I rewatched the film. Tassell’s quotes, anecdotes, biographical facts and fictional stories from this book whirred around my head like the sound of a woodchipper. I would heartily recommend you to read this book, as “it’s a beautiful day” when you learn how Fargo fiction met fact in this book of the film that put Fargo on the map.
A disclaimer and personal thank you to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to write this post as part of her book tour. Also thanks to Polaris Publishing for allowing me to review this book. Financial compensation was not received for this post. I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed here are my own. If you are involved in the entertainment industry and would like to be featured or promoted here, please drop a line to me via my Contact Me Page.