Cast: Frances McDormand (Marge Gunderson), William H. Macy (Jerry Lundegaard), Harve Presnell (Wade Gustafson), Steve Buscemi (Carl Showalter), Peter Stormare (Gaear Grimsrud), Kristin Rudrüd (Jean Lundegaard)
Director: Joel Coen
My rating: 9.5 / 10
Inspired by a true story, a car salesman (Jerry Lundegaard) in Minneapolis who is desperate for money hires two criminals to kidnap his wife. Her father is both wealthy and domineering making for what looks like a great opportunity to solve Jerry’s financial problems and get one over his father in-law. However, things don’t go according to plan with bad decision making and bad luck for everyone involved leading to a local police chief, the lovely Marge Gunderson, getting involved.
What’s to Like
The winter landscape of Minnesota and North Dakota, loveable pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson, the folksy way people talk, the plot twists and turns, the unexpected violence.
What’s not to Like
The desperation of Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) to be a financial success stands in contrast to pregnant local police chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) who just wants people to be happy especially her husband a local artist. After the tragic series of events in the movie near the end Marge asks criminal Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) ‘There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’t you know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well, I just don’t understand it.’ this sums up the root of all the individuals’ bad decisions during the film.
The bad decision start with Jerry ignoring his family to focus on being a financial success and avoiding the bankruptcy situation he has gotten himself into. His father Wade in-law a financial success makes it clear to Jerry that his daughter and grandson will have no financial worries making it clear Jerry is on his own. Wade even cuts Jerry out from being a partner in a car parking development opportunity that Jerry brings to him making it clear Jerry is not up to his level. Wade makes terrible decisions throughout the movie from not thinking his son in-law is capable of the kidnapping to how to handle the ransom payment for his daughter, thinking that has he has the money he controls events and people, a tragic mistake in the end.
Criminals Carl (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear (Peter Stormare) screw each over over how to split a car as they are parting ways, in Carl’s case he was hiding the fact they collected way more ransom money then expected and he had no reason to argue over the splitting of the car as he had hidden the windfall from Gaear. Gaear just wanted what he thought was his share not caring about the consequences.
Everyone who makes a bad decision believes that they are way smarter than they actually are and can find a shortcut to their desires. The kidnappers leave some many clues and make some many stupid decisions. When Jerry gets caught at the end of the movie he is half dressed and crying, a complete failure who gave up a family for nothing and who set off a chain of events that killed at least six people.
Marge however is a delight. The polite way she talks to everyone brings a smile to me every time “I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work there, Lou.” or “And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper?” and “I’d be very surprised if our suspect was from Brainerd.”
Marge is upbeat even when her prowler (police vehicle) won’t start in the cold weather or when she is experiencing morning sickness. When searching for clues in another town Marge is as interested in where the best buffet is located in town. The contrast between Marge and the grounded people in her life, and the witless Jerry and the people in his life couldn’t be greater.
You just have to love the folksy language and the kindness of most of the people from Minnesota. Frances McDormand very much deserved her Best Actress Academy Award and Coen brothers their Best Screenplay Award, in fact I’m a little surprised they didn’t get Best Picture Award having to settle for being a nominee.
- Best Actress in a Leading Role (Frances McDormand) – winner
- Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Ethan Coen & Joel Coen) – winner
- Best Picture (Ethan Coen) – nominee
- Best Actor in a Supporting Role (William H. Macy) – nominee
- Best Director (Joel Coen) – nominee
- Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins) – nominee
- Best Film Editing Ethan Coen & Joel Coen) – nominee