Screenplay Analysis by: Petros L. Ioannou
Fargo is a 1995 film written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen; colloquially known as “The Coen Brothers”. Right off the bat I’m going to say something many might consider controversial, even blasphemous; I am not a fan of the Coen Brothers. I think they’re really, really overrated but that Fargo and The Big Lebowski are excellent films. In this case I’m going to be saying what I really love about Fargo and why I think it’s such an excellent screenplay by two writer-directors who generally speaking I really dislike. I was not fan of Burn After Reading, I think No Country for Old Men and True Grit are highly overrated and The Ladykillers is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen to the point that in the cinema I actually walked out, which I didn’t even do during The Last Airbender, a film I consider to be an insult to writers, directors, actors, cinema as an art form, the viewing public, God and the universe. So despite my dislike of the Coen Brothers as writer-directors, I love two of their films, my favourite of which, is Fargo.
The story is a zany and bizarre one. It’s about a man named Jerry. Jerry is a desperate but greedy bastard who wants money and will do anything to get his hands on it, even something this despicable. He hires two criminals to kidnap his own wife so that they can con reward money for her rescue but then things go wrong and the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan and splatters all over Jerry’s not so proverbial plans and the humour for the audience kicks in. For all the rage-hate I have for the Coen’s this is their trademark, taking something to almost slapstick extremes with such a dark overtone you’re sometimes laughing out of sheer horror. The same kind of humour that would go on to influence films like The Hangover. I think this and Lebowski are the only two films they execute it successfully in and Fargo does it brilliantly.
Looking at the language in the film it’s very interesting. Most films will write in Standard English or Received Pronunciation to make it clear and then the director and/or actors will make the role their own. There will occasionally be a slang term thrown in here and there to show off the characters personalities but this film has dialect running all the way through the film’s characters. Clearly the Coens thought about this meticulously when they wrote and it shows in the impressive language of the screenplay as nearly every character seems to have not just a unique dialect but a unique speech pattern and voice of their own that leaps off the page. I find this very impressive as it’s something that’s very hard to do.
The characters aren’t the only great thing about the script; the plot is excruciatingly detailed, painstakingly plotted and very, very, twisted, both in the literal sense and the moral sense of the word. Fargo simply put is an excellent screenplay and by far the best of the Coen brothers rather average resume in my personal opinion, which is also another reason it stands out. It’s a masterpiece of a script that captures atmosphere, character in plot in the script without getting confusing, something that for most writers is bordering on the edge of impossibility.