By John N. Lupia (Toms River, NJ)
The Coen Brothers have masterfully woven a tapestry of portraits of good and evil in this lyrical yet dark sociopathic film that plays like Baroque chamber music.
The tapestry portrays the contrasting lives of two people: a car dealership manager named Jerry Lundegaard (William Macy) and a police chief named Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormond).
Jerry is desperate and disgruntled married man living in a cushiony and fashionable upper middle class home with his wife Jean (Kristin Rudrud) and their son Scotty (Tony Denman). His personal happiness and dignity are compromised and frustrated working at the mercy of his unaffectionate and disapproving father-in-law Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell). Trying to get out from under Wade’s hateful and tyrannical grip Jerry hopes and dreams to form his own business opening a lucrative parking garage. He apparently made a down payment to buy the land for it fraudulently using a $350K GMC loan intended to purchase cars for Wade’s dealership. In order to prevent his crime from being discovered Jerry masterminds two radically different plans, but unfortunately, executes them simultaneously.
Marge is a happily married seven-month expectant mother and chief of police living in Brainerd, Minnesota. Her husband Norm (John Carroll Lynch) is a professional artist engaged in a painting competition with the United States Post Office for the commission of the new postage stamp designs. Her story opens by being woken up by Lou, one of her patrol officers who discovered the triple murder requiring her immediate attention. Her charming and comical character emerges from beneath the bed comforter revealing her expectant condition and cool and collected nonchalant demeanor. Her equally charming spouse has her same disposition and wakens early to fix Margie her breakfast.
The contrast between the tense and intense Jerry and the placid Marge enhances the film’s charm and comic sense of humor. Marge demonstrates keen intellect skilled in logic and deductive reasoning at the crime scene revealing her true inner character that lies beneath her comical Norman Rockwellesque outward appearance as an expectant Keystone cop.
The film is loaded with humorous twists involving Marge as a police chief investigating the triple homicides, and her as a woman. One of the first examples of this sort of humor occurs while Marge is examining the young girl shot inside the over turned car when suddenly she squats down and Lou asks, “See something down there chief?” Marge replies, “No, I just think I’m gonna barf.” Lou, “Geez. You ok Margie?” Marge, “Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just morning sickness.”
The film opens with the unraveling of his concocted harebrained scheme to pay back the loan and bank roll the parking garage construction by kidnapping his wife Jean in order to extort $1 million from Wade. The kidnapping is a double cross since he pretends to the two hired thugs, Gaer Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) and Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) that he is only asking $80K in ransom and will split the money with them and throw in a new tan Ford Cutlass Sierra, which he has stolen from Wade’s lot. Meanwhile, he sent his business plan for the parking lot to Wade for review hoping he would provide $750K in venture capital. Wade’s business partner Stan Grossman (Larry Brandenburg) confirms it is a sweet deal but not for Jerry, but for themselves. Jerry freaks out when they offer him merely a finder’s fee completely cutting him out of his own deal. This leaves him desperately counting on the kidnapping to be a success to bail him out.
But, as Murphy’s Law would have it everything goes wrong that could conceivably go wrong. Besides a triple murder from the outset Wade forces a change that foils Jerry’s plans undermining the entire scheme. Wade, not Jerry delivers the ransom money leaving the $1 million in the hands of Carl Showalter, who like Jerry conceals the amount from his partner in crime in a double-double cross. In the end Jerry’s wife, father-in-law, and five others are murdered.