Study Guide

Fargo Director

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Joel And Ethan Coen

Chaos of the Criminal Mind

Joel Coen is credited as the director, just like Ethan is credited as the producer. But in reality, they both do double duty on everything.

And that includes writing every single Midwestern-nice truism that makes its way into this flick—oh, you betcha.

In crafting Fargo, the brothers wanted to make a crime movie that actually felt more realistic—they wanted to have incompetent bad guys, not super villains. The messiness and absurdity of criminal enterprise is a common Coen theme, going back to their first movie, Blood Simple in 1984. In an interview from shortly after Fargo came out, Ethan Coen described the way they wanted to depict their villainous characters:

One of the reasons for making them simple-minded was our desire to go against the Hollywood cliché of the bad guy as a super-professional who controls everything he does. In fact, in most cases criminals belong to the strata of society least equipped to face life, and that's the reason they're caught so often. In this sense too, our movie is closer to life than the conventions of cinema and genre movies. (Source)

The Coens have created an incredibly diverse bunch of films, from wacky parodies like O Brother, Where Art Thou? to grim, terrifying films like No Country for Old Men. The words "cynical" and "idiosyncratic" get applied to them a lot, but Matt Seitz, writing in Salon, thinks there's much more to them:

But an attentive and open-minded viewer of the Coens' films should detect something more than a bugs-against-a-windshield approach to storytelling. A subterranean stream of sadness, dread and outrage runs beneath every one of their movies, even the outwardly "light" ones. So does a sense of social and often spiritual striving. (Source)

The Coens' characters may be dumb, greedy or outright wicked, but nearly all are, in their eccentric, sometimes dumb-ass ways, groping after self-betterment and happiness — and the Coens acknowledge their desperate boldness through humor and sweetness even as they enumerate their moral lapses and show how their weakness and stupidity snowballs into catastrophe.

And it's evident to everyone who watches this movie that, not only did the Coens write an awesomesauce script, but they got incredible performances out of their cast. They knew exactly what they wanted. William H. Macy said that Jerry's every line and gesture was carefully scripted, even though it looks so spontaneous and ad-libbed. He also said the directors had incredible affection for all their characters, even the bad guys, and manage make the audience feel the same way.

We think that worked… but we'd tend to feel affection for Steve Buscemi even if we watched him play a piece of lawn furniture.

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