Inspired by the 1996 film, this adaptation of the Coen brothers’ fan favourite does its muse proud. A wolf named Lorne Malvo has come to rural Minnesota. The sweeping strings in the opening titles let us know that good and evil will battle it out in this depressing setting. This devilish stranger – the seductively cold Billy Bob Thornton – has bigger fish to fry than downtrodden local insurance agent Lester Nygaard. But the two cross paths and the amoral light in the newcomer’s eye ignites something in the small-town loser. One Faustian deal later and Lester is on a sometimes panicky, sometimes gleeful path of no return.
Standing in the way of Lester’s total abandonment of morality and community is the diligent, long-suffering police officer, Molly Solverson. Despite being relegated to coffee and doughnut duty by everyday sexism and ‘Minnesota nice’, she knows from the get-go that something has gone seriously wrong in her town. Helping her fight the good fight is Gus Grimly, a cop from a neighbouring town who has been consigned to animal control. Grimly is not really cut out for the job and struggles to convince his superiors to forget about stray dogs and focus on the real animal threat.
Fargo delights in making the viewer root at times for the wholesome Molly, at times for the despicable Lester. If we’re so keen for community to triumph, why are we so oddly intrigued by Malvo’s indifference to the ties that bind? Fargo is beautifully realised, sometimes strange, and not afraid to stand apart from regular crime dramas.
Chris Dite is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.