I’ve heard people complain that the Coen Brothers specialize in caricatures, making a career of mocking ordinary honest doggone downhome folk. This accusation especially dogged the heels of Fargo, their heartrending tale of the petty, sorry aftermath of crime gone horribly wrong. I disagree: I say Fargo is both observational and proverbial, a mediation on the tragedy of lives shaped by greed, with a resonant moral showing the significance of modest accomplishments.
Some viewers react strongly to the film’s depictions of violence, perhaps because we’re accustomed to seeing violence as something stylized, glamorized, fetishized — not brutally simple and sad as it is here. In the world of Fargo, violence is wincingly realistic. It happens suddenly, nastily.
The Coens don’t mock their characters; they simply refuse to glamorize them. William H. Macy’s performance is achingly eloquent; he is a simple man, a seemingly honest man, a family man who allows his greed and ambition to outreach his feeble moral scope, and he pays for it terribly. Frances McDormand (as Chief Marge Gunderson) is the heart of the film, radiating calm intelligence and solid, earnest kindness — a sane center in a sad, mad little world.