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Fargo: Special Edition

The snowbound noir homage Fargo (1996) won Academy Awards for star Frances McDormand and for the Coen Brothers' screenplay, as well as the BAFTA David Lean Award for Directing, the Best Director award at Cannes and a slew of other honors from film critics' societies. It's listed as one of the American Film Institute's Top 100 Films. But despite that pedigree, it can be appreciated on a pure popcorn-munching level, as a crackerjack dark comedy about a kidnapping that goes horribly awry and the competent small-town cop who cracks the case. A weaselly Minnesota car salesman named Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is desperate to come up with a lot of cash to save himself from self-imposed financial ruin. So he hires a motley duo of ne'er-do-wells (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife so he can bleed his rich, obnoxious father-in-law (Harve Presnell) for the ransom, promising the pair a cut of the loot and a new car. But the plan goes very badly, very quickly, while the local sheriff, Marge Gunderson (McDormand) pieces together the crime as Jerry becomes more and more frantic to cover it up. On that slender thread of story, the Coens have hung a wealth of detail, exploring the mundane aspects of Midwestern life and giving each character a rich backstory and a lot of quirks. The very pregnant Marge patiently pursues Jerry while taking time to tend to her husband, Norm "Son of a" Gunderson (John Carroll Lynch), a placid bear who brings her sack lunches when not working on his duck paintings. The increasingly manic Jerry could be any of a hundred men you pass on the street each day, working in a tiny, wood-paneled office decorated with funny golf paraphernalia. The worse things get for him, the more he lies and schemes to cover his tracks — he's simply not smart enough to think his way out of his predicament nor does he have the strength of character to own up to his wrongdoing. As horrible as the events in Fargo are, Jerry's still a character that inspires pity as we watch the noose around his neck tighten with each misstep. It's left to Marge to sum it all up when she finally nabs her man: "There's more to life than a little bit of money, you know. Don't ya know that? I just don't understand it." MGM's "Special Edition" release of Fargo is an upgrade from the previous bare-bones, non-anamorphic disc, offering a very clean, very bright 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer (a full-frame transfer is offered on Side Two.) It's virtually flaw-free, with crisp detail, doing justice to Roger Deakins' amazing cinematography. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (upgrading the 2.0 Dolby Surround on the previous release) is excellent — Fargo is hardly a sound-effects-heavy film, but Carter Burwell's lovely, subtle score is worth hearing. Extras include a commentary track featuring cinematographer Deakins, a trivia track, the featurette "Minnesota Nice" (30 min.), a clip from "The Charlie Rose Show," an American Cinematographer article, a photo gallery, the film's trailer, TV spots, and Easter eggs. Keep case.
—Dawn Taylor

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