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Fargo (film)

This article is about a 1996 movie. For other uses, see [[Fargo (disambiguation)#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.Fargo]].
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Joel Coen
Produced by Ethan Coen
Written by Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
Starring Frances McDormand
William H. Macy
Steve Buscemi
Harve Presnell
Peter Stormare
Music by Carter Burwell
Cinematography Roger Deakins
Edited by Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
(as Roderick Jaynes)
Distributed by

Metro Goldwyn Mayer

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Release dates
  • March 8, 1996 (1996-03-08)
Running time
98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $7 million
Box office $60,611,975

Fargo is a 1996 American neo-noir black comedy crime film written, produced, edited, and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. It stars Frances McDormand as a pregnant Minnesota police chief who investigates a series of local homicides, and William H. Macy as a struggling car salesman who hires two criminals to kidnap his wife. The film also features Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Harve Presnell, and John Carroll Lynch.

The film earned seven Academy Award nominations, winning two for Best Original Screenplay for the Coens and Best Actress in a Leading Role for McDormand.[1] It also won the BAFTA Award and the Award for Best Director for Joel Coen at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival.[2]

In 2006, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and inducted into the United States National Film Registry for preservation, making it one of six films to have been preserved in their first year of eligibility.[3]

The film was followed by the critically acclaimed FX television series created and written by Noah Hawley, with the Coen brothers acting as executive producers, starring Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton.[4]


In the winter of 1987, Minneapolis car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is desperate for money. With help from Shep Proudfoot (Steve Reevis), an ex-convict and mechanic co-worker, Jerry is introduced to criminals Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare). Jerry travels to Fargo, North Dakota to meet and hire the two men to kidnap his wife, Jean (Kristin Rudrüd), and ransom her for $80,000 to his wealthy father-in-law and boss, Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell). In exchange, Jerry will provide Carl and Gaear with a new 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera and half of the ransom money. However, Jerry secretly intends to tell Wade that the ransom demand is for $1,000,000 and keep most of the money for himself.

Meanwhile, Jerry has been trying to convince Wade to lend him money for a real estate deal. As Wade becomes interested in the investment, Jerry tries to call off the kidnapping, but he is too late as Carl and Gaear are already en route to Minneapolis and cannot be reached. As it turns out, Wade intends to buy the property himself anyway and give Jerry only a finder's fee. Meanwhile, Carl and Gaear arrive in Minneapolis and kidnap Jean, but on the way back to their cabin hideout, they are stopped by a state trooper outside Brainerd, Minnesota. When Carl's attempt to bribe the trooper fails and arouses suspicion, Gaear abruptly shoots the trooper, killing him. Moments later, a couple in a passing car witnesses Carl moving the trooper's body off the road and they drive away. Gaear chases after them until they swerve off the road and flip over, enabling Gaear to kill them.

The following morning, Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), a local police chief who is seven months pregnant, investigates the homicides. She deduces the chain of events and follows the leads that arise, including interviewing two prostitutes who had serviced the criminals at a truck stop two nights before. After being informed that the criminals telephoned Shep from the truck stop, she drives to Minneapolis, but acquires no information in interviews with both Shep and Jerry. While visiting Minneapolis, Marge reconnects with an old classmate, Mike Yanagita (Steve Park), who unsuccessfully tries to seduce her during dinner and then tells her that he has been lonely ever since his wife, Linda Cooksey, also from their high school, died from leukemia.

Jerry contacts Wade and Stan Grossman (Larry Brandenburg), Wade's accountant, claiming that the kidnappers insist on dealing only with Jerry. Wade and Stan accept this arrangement at first, but Wade later changes his mind and decides to deal with the kidnappers himself. Also, Carl angrily demands that Jerry give him and Gaear the entire $80,000 ransom as extra payment for the murders. Later, Shep tracks down Carl and beats him for potentially getting him in trouble with Marge. Furious, Carl phones Jerry and demands he make the drop off that night at a parking garage. However, Wade, who was eavesdropping on their conversation, storms out of the house instead of Jerry, with the ransom in his briefcase. When he arrives, Wade refuses to hand over the briefcase to Carl until Jean is returned. Angered by Wade's demands and unexpected appearance, Carl kills Wade, but not before Wade shoots Carl in the cheek. Jerry arrives at the scene's aftermath and puts Wade's body in his trunk. The next day, Carl discovers that the briefcase contains $1,000,000. He removes $80,000 to split with Gaear and buries the rest in the snow alongside the highway, marking the spot with an ice scraper. Carl then returns to the hideout and discovers that Gaear has killed Jean, claiming that she was too noisy. Following a dispute over the Ciera, Gaear murders Carl with an axe.

Before leaving Minneapolis, Marge learns from a friend that Mike had lied to her about his marriage and about Linda's death. She finds out that Mike has psychiatric problems and was actually stalking Linda. This revelation causes Marge to re-question Jerry, now believing that he too had lied to her about the missing car and its possible connection to the Brainerd homicides. Jerry becomes nervously uncooperative when Marge asks to speak with Wade and angrily storms out of his office, claiming to go check the lot for the missing car. Instead, he flees the dealership, which prompts Marge to contact the state police.

Later, after following up on a tip from a local bartender, who was suspicious over a drunken Carl's rantings a few days prior, Marge drives to Moose Lake and finds the stolen car. She catches Gaear feeding the last of Carl's body into a wood chipper. He attempts to run away across the frozen lake, but Marge shoots him in the leg and arrests him. Later, Jerry's location is traced to a motel outside Bismarck, North Dakota, where he is subdued and arrested while attempting to escape through a bathroom window.

That night, Marge and her husband, Norm (John Carroll Lynch), sit in bed together discussing Norm's mallard artwork, which has been selected as the design for a postage stamp. Norm is disappointed that it will appear on the 3¢ stamp instead of the more prestigious 29¢ stamp, but Marge is very proud of his achievement. The two hold each other close while expressing excitement for the birth of their child in two months.



Factual basis

Fargo opens with the following text:

Although the film plot is completely fictional, the Coen brothers claimed that many of the events that take place in the movie were actually based on true events from other cases that they threw together to make one story. Joel Coen noted:

The Coens claim the actual murders took place, but not in Minnesota.[6] The main reason for the film's setting is the Coens were born and raised in St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis.[7]

On the trivia track of the film's special edition DVD, it is revealed that the main case that inspired the movie is the infamous 1986 murder of Helle Crafts from Connecticut at the hands of her husband, Richard, who disposed of her body through a wood chipper.[8] The end credits bear the standard "all persons fictitious" disclaimer for a work of fiction.[9]


Principal photography on Fargo began on January 25, 1995 in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. However, due to the region's unusually mild winter that year, the crew moved locations on March 9 to Hallock, Minnesota to find more suitably snow-covered landscapes for the film's winter setting. A second unit under the direction of Roger Deakins filmed near Bathgate, North Dakota where the film's Paul Bunyan statue was constructed.[10] In some scenes, artificial snow had to be created as pools and streams of meltwater are visible.[citation needed] Despite the film's title, no scenes were filmed in or near Fargo, North Dakota.

Filming locations used during production include:

  • King of Clubs, the bar shown at the beginning of the film where Lundegaard met the kidnappers, was located in Northeast Minneapolis on Central Avenue.[11] It has since been razed and is now Clare Housing for people with HIV.[12]
  • The Pillsbury Ave., Minneapolis home of Doug Melroe and Denny Kemp includes the kitchen of the Lundegaards' house.[13]
  • Wally McCarthy Oldsmobile was used for Gustafson Automotive and was located in the Minneapolis suburb of Richfield, off of Interstate 494 and Penn Avenue. The dealership has since relocated to Roseville and the site is currently Best Buy's corporate headquarters.
  • Stockman's Truck Stop in South St. Paul was used as the Blue Ox Motel.
  • Ember's was a restaurant located on the frontage road (S. Wayzata Blvd.) of Interstate 394 in St. Louis Park. The location is now out of business and the building has been razed; it is now the location of DaVita Westwood Hills Dialysis.
  • The kidnappers' hideout cabin was located on Square Lake in May, Minnesota. In 2002, it was sold and relocated to Barnes, Wisconsin.
  • The former Edina Police Station was used for interior shots of the Brainerd Police Station.[10]
  • The Lakeside Club, where Marge interviews the hookers, is in Mahtomedi.
  • Carl steals a license plate from the parking lot of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport.
  • Carlton Celebrity Room in Bloomington was used for the José Feliciano concert.
  • The Minneapolis Club Parking Ramp (located on S. 8th St. and 3rd Ave S.) was used for the scene wherein Wade delivers the money to Carl. The end of the scene, where Carl exits the parking garage, was actually shot at a different garage down the street – the Centre Village Parking Ramp (located at S. 8th St. and 5th Ave S.).
  • Mr. Mohra's home was filmed on the corner of 3rd Street and Bryan Avenue in Hallock, Minnesota. Hwy 175 west of Hallock served as the location of the homicide crime scene.[10]
  • The Hitching Post Motel, in Forest Lake, was used as the Bismarck motel when Jerry is arrested.


The film's use of "Minnesota nice" and a "singsong" regional accent are remembered years later, with locals fielding requests to say "Yah, you betcha," and other lines from the movie.[14] According to the film's dialect coach, Liz Himelstein, "the accent was another character." She coached the cast using audio tapes and field trips.[15] Another dialogue coach, Larissa Kokernot (who appeared onscreen playing a prostitute), notes that the "small-town, Minnesota accent is close to the sound of the Nords and the Swedes," which is "where the musicality comes from." She also helped McDormand understand Minnesota nice and the practice of head-nodding to show agreement.[16] The strong accent of Jerry and Marge is less common in the Twin Cities, where over 60% of the state's population lives. Speakers from Minneapolis and St. Paul are more characterized by the Northern cities vowel shift, which is also found in other places in the Northern United States as far east as Rochester, New York. In general, the accent was largely exaggerated.


Critical response

Fargo was met with widespread critical acclaim, currently holding a 94% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on reviews from 84 critics.[17][18]

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert both named Fargo the best film of 1996. It was also Ebert's fourth favorite of the 1990s.[19] In his original review, Ebert called it "one of the best films I've ever seen" and said that "films like Fargo are why I love the movies".[20]

The film was ranked number 84 on the American Film Institute's "100 Years...100 Movies" list in 1998 (although it was removed from the 2007 version) and number 93 on "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" list. The character Marge Gunderson was ranked number 33 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains. In 2006, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Film festivals

Fargo was screened at many film festivals. It was in the main competition at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Prix de la mise en scène (Best Director prize). Other festival screenings included the Pusan International Film Festival, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and the Naples Film Festival. On March 1, 2006, for the film's tenth anniversary, the first annual Fargo Film Festival screened Fargo by projecting the film onto the side of the Radisson Hotel (the city's tallest building) in downtown Fargo. The city repeated the event on September 29, 2011.

Awards and honors



Other honors

American Film Institute


Fargo/Barton Fink: Music by Carter Burwell
File:Fargo soundtrack album.jpg
Soundtrack album by Carter Burwell
Released May 28, 1996
Genre Film score
Length 43:15
Label TVT
Coen Brothers film soundtracks chronology

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As with all the Coen Brothers' films, except O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the score to Fargo is by Carter Burwell.[26]

The main musical motif is based on a Norwegian folk song[27] called "The Lost Sheep", or natively "Den bortkomne sauen".

Other songs featured in the film include: "Big City" by Merle Haggard, heard in the King of Clubs while Jerry meets with Carl and Gaear, These Boots Are Made for Walkin' by Boy George plays in the garage as Shep works, and "Let's Find Each Other Tonight" a live nightclub performance by José Feliciano that is viewed by Carl and a female escort. In the diner, when Jerry is urging Wade not to get police involved in his wife's kidnapping, Chuck Mangione's "Feels So Good" can be heard faintly in the background. The restaurant scene with Mike Yanagita is accompanied by a piano arrangement of "Sometimes in Winter" by Blood, Sweat & Tears. All the songs heard in the film are featured only as background music, usually on a radio, and do not appear on the soundtrack album.

The soundtrack was released in 1996 on TVT Records, combined with selections from the score to Barton Fink.[26]

Track listing

  1. "Fargo, North Dakota" – 2:47
  2. "Moose Lake" – 0:41
  3. "A Lot of Woe" – 0:49
  4. "Forced Entry" – 1:23
  5. "The Ozone" – 0:57
  6. "The Trooper's End" – 1:06
  7. "Chewing on it" – 0:51
  8. "Rubbernecking" – 2:04
  9. "Dance of the Sierra" – 1:23
  10. "The Mallard" – 0:58
  11. "Delivery" – 4:46
  12. "Bismarck, North Dakota" – 1:02
  13. "Paul Bunyan" – 0:35
  14. "The Eager Beaver" – 3:10
  15. "Brainerd Minnesota" – 2:40
  16. "Safe Keeping" – 1:41

Home video releases

  • Fargo has been released in several formats: VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray, and iTunes download.[28] The first home video release of the film was on November 19, 1996 on a pan and scan cassette. A collector's edition widescreen VHS was also released and included a snow globe that depicted the woodchipper scene which, when shaken, stirred up both snow and "blood".[29]
  • MGM Home Entertainment released Fargo on DVD on July 8, 1997 in a bare-bones edition.[30] A "Special Edition" DVD was released on September 30, 2003. The released featured minor changes to the film, particularly with its subtitles. The opening titles stating "This is a True Story" have been changed in this edition from the actual titles on the film print to digitally inserted titles. Also, the subtitle preceding Jerry Lundegaard's arrest "Outside of Bismarck, North Dakota" has been inserted digitally and moved from the bottom of the screen to the top.[30] The special edition of Fargo was repackaged in several Coen brothers box sets and also as a double feature DVD with other MGM releases.
  • A Blu-ray version was released on May 12, 2009 and later in a DVD combo pack in 2010.[31] On April 1, 2014, in commemoration for the 90th anniversary of MGM, the film was remastered in 4K and reissued again on Blu-ray.[31]

Television spin-offs

In 1997, a pilot was filmed for a television series based on the film. Set in Brainerd shortly after the events of the film, it starred Edie Falco as Marge Gunderson and Bruce Bohne reprising his role as Officer Lou. It was directed by Kathy Bates and featured no involvement from the Coen brothers. The episode finally aired in 2003 during Trio's Brilliant But Cancelled series of failed TV shows.[32]

A new TV series inspired by the film, with the Coens as executive producers,[33] debuted on FX in April 2014.[34] The series stars Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman and its first season received high acclaim from critics and audiences.[34][35][36] Existing in the same fictional universe as the film, the series is set mainly in Bemidji, Minnesota, nineteen years after the film's events, and has a different cast of characters. The episode "Eating the Blame" reintroduces the buried ransom money for a minor three-episode subplot.[37][38]

See also


  1. ^ "". 2010-01-29. Retrieved 2010-02-28. 
  2. ^ a b "Festival de Cannes: Fargo". Retrieved 2009-09-16. 
  3. ^ "'Fargo,' 'Blazing Saddles' Added to National Film Registry". ABC News. 
  4. ^ Goldberg, Lesley (January 14, 2014). "FX's 'Fargo' Cast, EPs on Film Comparisons, Anthology Format, Courting Billy Bob Thornton". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 23, 2014. 
  5. ^ Heitmueller, Karl (2005-04-12). "Rewind: What Part Of 'Based On' Don't You Understand?". Retrieved 2012-09-25. 
  6. ^ O'Rourke, Mike (1997-02-11). "Reaction to 'Fargo' nomination". Brainerd Dispatch. Archived from the original on Dec 31, 2002. 
  7. ^ Smetanka, Mary Jane (2008-08-08). "We're ready for our close-up, Mr. Coen(s)". Minneapolis Star Tribune. Retrieved 2008-09-05. 
  8. ^ Gado, Mark (1986-11-18). "All about the Woodchipper Murder Case". Retrieved 2010-02-28. 
  9. ^ Fargo from the Urban Legends Reference Pages
  10. ^ a b c IMDB Fargo (1996) – Filming locations.
  11. ^ "(stock photo with location)". Retrieved 2010-02-28. 
  12. ^ "At last, a real home". Retrieved 2010-02-28. 
  13. ^ J. Pinkley (April 28, 2003). "Kitchen of Kemp, Melroe home". Archived from the original on 2007-10-22. Retrieved 2011-02-28. 
  14. ^ McMacken, Robin (May 9, 2004). "North Dakota: Where the accent is on friendship". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2008-02-22. 
  15. ^ Laura Randall (March 26, 2004). "She Accentuates Film Performances". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2008-02-22. 
  16. ^ Chris Hewitt (October 19, 2005). "Forget `Fargo' – actors put accent on Minnesota realism". Saint Paul Pioneer Press. Retrieved 2008-02-22. 
  17. ^ "Fargo Movie Reviews, Pictures – Rotten Tomatoes". Retrieved 2010-02-28. 
  18. ^ "Fargo (1996): Reviews". Retrieved 2010-02-28. 
  19. ^ "Memo to the Academy". Siskel & Ebert. Aired on January 18, 1997.
  20. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 8, 1996). "Fargo". Chicago Sun-Times (Sun-Times Media Group). Retrieved March 31, 2010. 
  21. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees
  22. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains Nominees
  23. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees
  24. ^ AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees
  25. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Ballot
  26. ^ a b "Soundtrack Details: Fargo". Retrieved 2007-10-11. 
  27. ^ Braxton, Jonathan. "Fargo/Barton Fink". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-10-11. 
  28. ^
  29. ^ Ty burr (May 2, 1999). "SUMMER FILMS: SYNERGY; A Few Words in Defense of Swag". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-12-09. 
  30. ^ a b IMDB Fargo DVD Information
  31. ^ a b
  32. ^ "Television: Reruns; Edie Falco in 'Fargo,' and Other Gems You Never Saw". The New York Times. 31 August 2003. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  33. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (2012-09-21). "FX Teams With Joel & Ethan Coen And Noah Hawley For Series Adaptation Of 'Fargo'". Retrieved 2012-09-25. 
  34. ^ a b "FX Sets Premiere Date For 'Fargo,'" from Variety, 1/14/2014
  35. ^ "Billy Bob Thornton to star in "Fargo" TV series". CBS News. August 2, 2013. Retrieved August 3, 2013. 
  36. ^ "Metacritic: Fargo Season 1". Metacritic. July 14, 2013. Retrieved July 14, 2013. 
  37. ^ Ray, Amber (May 7, 2014). "'Fargo' episode 4: The Easter egg that connects the series to the film". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved June 20, 2014. 
  38. ^ Nguyen, Hanh (May 6, 2014). "Fargo Boss Breaks Down That (Very Familiar) Money Shot". TV Guide. Retrieved June 20, 2014. 

Further reading

External links

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