Car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is a bit down on his luck. He’s run up some pretty substantial debts, and will be in trouble for fraudulent affairs any day now, as soon as the bank realise the cars he has been claiming against don’t actually exist. The solution to his problem? Arrange for his wife to be kidnapped, so Jerry can collect on the ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. Unfortunately the miscreants hired to do the kidnapping, Carl and Gaear (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare), bungle the escape, leaving enough clues for the police chief, a heavily pregnant Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), to begin tracking everyone down and sorting this mess out.
Snivelling, double-talking car salesman Jerry Jundegaard (William H. Macy, Oscar nommed but somehow losing to Cuba Gooding Jr.) has a plan. He needs money. His father-in-law Wade (Harve Presnell) has money, but hates Jerry. So Jerry hires two thugs (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife and demand a ransom, of which Jerry will keep half. What could go wrong? Well, quite a lot it turns out, especially if everyone involved is an idiot and you’re being directed by the Coen brothers. The men’s escapades are chaotic, unstructured and are all heading off in different directions until, at the 32 minute mark, heavily pregnant Sheriff Marge Gunderson shows up to set them in order. Frances McDormand deservedly won an Oscar for her portrayal, nailing that wonderful sing-song North Dakota accent “Yah, you betcha” and, once full of eggs, keeping a straight face whilst clearing up the handbasket Hell’s clearly fallen out of around her.
Few films as short as this (98 minutes) have room to divulge us with background lives – a meeting with an old school friend, conversations about stamps – whilst still keeping the action moving briskly. Every line is considered and real, every character feels genuine, and this is the greatest proof you can find against the argument that the Coens can only write caricatures. Often underrated, this film can never be over-seen, and no-one can call themselves a film fan unless they’ve both seen it, and loved it. The title of this blog was very nearly called Your Accomplice in the Wood Chipper, and a car boot opening has never made me laugh before.
Choose film 10/10