When you hear the news that one of the writers/producers of the TV show Bones is going to adapt what is arguably THE best Coen Bros. movie, you have to have a little bit of cynicism regarding the project. After all, in the past the transition from TV to film and vice versa have met with mixed reactions. With these two factors I went in to Fargo as skeptical as possible. Boy, was I absolutely wrong in my assumptions.
The first part of this review will be spoiler free, since some of you came to see if it is worth your time. Noah Hawtly, the creator of the show, has masterfully adapted the feel and aesthetic of the movie, the seemingly pointless conversations, absurd characters, and awkward humor, creating another great fable set in the snowy environment of Minnesota. It’s also fantastic that he used the falsified “Based on a True Story” tag the Bros. used on their version. Nonetheless, great writing can be diminished by incompetent acting or lazy directing. However, the crew Hawtly chose for himself have all been tremendously brilliant. I want to point out how perfect the cast was for each and every one of their roles. Billy Bob Thornton as the weird hitman, with his quirky approach to his victims, Martin Freeman as the timid insecure salesman, Allison Tomlin as the good natured but determined local cop, and Colin Hanks as the other good natured but determined local cop. The secondary cast are hit and miss, but when they hit they hit hard; Bob Odenkirk as the fussy police chief, Adam Goldberg and Russell Harvard as the Fargo hitmen, Glenn Howerton as the tanned personal trainer, and Keith Carradine as the ever lovable wise old man with the most interesting backstory. The directing is phenomenal, using minimalistic camera movement and close ups, contrasting it with the violent themes of the show.
Now onto spoiler territory, so heed our warning!
First and foremost, I’d like to note that the show excels in its domino effect - from Malvo killing Hess, causing the Fargo hitmen to go and investigate the matters in Minnesota, Gus catching his by chance on a shift of his, thus ensuring his involvement in the case, and lastly Lester - with each and every one of the characters.
Despite being billed last, Martin Freeman’s character, Lester Nygard, is the driving momentum that moves the show forward. Sure, there were subplots involving Lorne Malvo (Thornton) being a manipulative bastard to each and every character on the show, and Molly Solverson (Tolman) trying to piece all these events together and marrying Gus Grimly (Hanks), but none were given a similar spotlight to Lester’s arc. From the very first coincidental encounter with Malvo in the hospital to the coincidental encounter in Las Vegas, his character is the one that goes through the biggest transition: from a whiny, down on his luck salesman to overconfident psychopath. What I love most about all this is the fact that in lesser talented hands, Lester would’ve been the typical everyman reacting to everything around him.
The other main plot of the show, where we follow deputy Solverson trying to solve (ultimately succeeding) her partner’s murder case. It was a joy to see her back and forth conversation with her chief (Odenkirk), getting advice from her retired father (Carradine), and adorably trying to justify any excuse to see Gus. Tolman nailed the part of a level headed policewoman trying her darn best to solve the case ya know! The other half of the equation is Hanks’ Gus Grimly. To be honest, I didn’t have any expectation whatsoever from Hanks’s performance, especially after the travesty that was the sixth season of Dexter, but I’m glad that I’ve been proven incorrect. His down to earth demeanor and determination to his tasks makes him a perfect fit for Molly, and I’m glad they were together by the end of it all. Also, seeing that Gus is the one to end everything, even after leaving his position to take on his dream of being a postman, is a satisfying sight to witness.
The main subplot of the show, which I think is what the general audience will remember most, involves the general manager of a big chain supermarket hiring Malvo to investigate a seemingly simple blackmail case that blows into one of biblical proportions. Why Malvo would decide to fuck with the manager, replacing water with pig's blood and filling his store with locusts, is anyone’s guess, but it was beautiful to see it unfold into its majestically tragic end. I enjoyed Howerton’s performance as the douchey, over-ambitious, tanned trainer, and was sad to see him go, tied up with an empty shotgun in his hand, in the blazing fires of a police station while a classical score played in the foreground. I kinda like how Howerton left his It’s Always Sunny comfort zone into a role that feels natural for him to play, and I look forward to see him in other projects.
The Fargo hitmen… oh the Fargo hitmen. I cannot express in words how much I love these characters and their unusual interrogation methods (soggy sock inserted orally anyone?). I loved their conversations, their involvement in every character’s ordeal. I was sad to see the non-deaf one (yes that’s how I try to distinguish between them. Don’t judge me!) die by none other than Malvo, but I rejoiced in seeing the salvation of the Deaf Fella by the same hands that killed his partner.
Unlike the Fargo hitmen, the FBI agents were useless. As much as I enjoyed their bickering and resulting end, I felt they fell flat and didn’t fit the whole picture. Not to say they weren’t good, in fact they were great! They just didn’t fit the narrative in the end of it all, and were just an excuse to move the story forward, and it felt they were there to fill the quota of the Coen Bros. weird and quirky characters arguing semantics with each other. If the show revolved around them alone I would’ve had a higher regard for them, but it doesn't, sadly.
Despite some unnecessary characters (the manager’s wife) and unresolved subplots (Malvo being a dentist and marrying a hot Swedish girl?!), Fargo was phenomenal in every single way imaginable. The writing, directing, and acting were the finest I’ve seen on the silver screen in the past few years. Overall I would recommend the show to every single human being imaginable.
By Aziz Twaijri