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One of the best movies of the 1990s is on HBO Max this January. Here’s why you should watch it

Two men watch a woman run in the snow in Fargo.
MGM/Gramercy

Over the course of their decades as one of the most well-known directing duos in the history of Hollywood, Joel and Ethan Coen have made many movies that have more than stood the test of time. Their wild and varied filmography includes dark dramas, straight comedies, and plenty of movies that don’t fit neatly into either category. If you’re looking to catch up on some of the directing duo’s best work and you find yourself scrolling through the great list of movies available on Max, then Fargo is a perfect place to start.

The movie, which tells the story of a kidnapping gone horribly wrong and the comedic investigation into the crime, has spawned a critically acclaimed TV show by Noah Hawley that just premiered its fifth season. Ultimately, though, the original movie still reigns supreme. Here are four reasons you should check it out.

Fargo features Frances McDormand’s most unforgettable performance

Frances McDormand in Fargo.
MGM

Frances McDormand is a three-time Oscar winner, most recently for her outstanding performance in 2020’s Nomadland, but her first Oscar win will definitely never be topped. Playing Marge Gunderson, a pregnant sheriff from Fargo who is investigating a homicide but refuses to break her chipper demeanor while doing so, McDormand created a kind of force for good that we’d never seen on screen.

Marge wasn’t strident or insistent. She was just a kind, decent person trying to understand why the world around her so often crumbled into violence, and she deserved every plaudit she received.

The movie is equal parts comedy and drama

Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson in Fargo.
MGM

Like many of the Coen brothers’ greatest films, Fargo works because it perfectly balances the drama at its core with plenty of comedy. This includes colorful side characters who are way more amusing than they need to be (including a pair of women who can only describe Steve Buscemi as “kind of funny looking”) and plenty of fun with the distinctive northern midwestern accent.

Although it’s a move replete with murder and death, Fargo makes the most of its black comedy, and every performance is perfectly in sync with the idea that the movie can make you laugh, even as it makes its bigger point abundantly clear.

Fargo is a thoughtful meditation on evil

William H. Macy in Fargo.
MGM

Even as it manages to entertain from beginning to end (and comes in under two hours), Fargo is ultimately a really thoughtful movie about why people do bad things. The movie’s plot is kicked off by a man who needs to pay off debts and decides to kidnap his wife to collect a ransom from her wealthy father.

As things spiral, you realize that all of the death and destruction the movie is built around was committed for a relatively small amount of money. Fargo makes you wonder why all that money would ever be worth it, and in the end, you know that it isn’t.

That woodchipper scene

Fargo (1996) - The Wood Chipper Scene (11/12) | Movieclips

If you know, you know. If you don’t and don’t mind being spoiled of the movie’s shocking ending, watch the clip above, which is one of the most gruesome, unexpected scenes in modern cinema.

Pay attention to how McDormand’s character gradually realizes what she’s discovering and how she responds. It’s comedy at its pitch blackest, and might be the Coen brothers’ finest moment in their illustrious filmography.

Fargo is streaming on Max.

Editors' Recommendations

Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance writer based in upstate New York focused on movies and TV.
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