SOME weird shit just happened. But you don’t hang out with Ethan and Joel for all these years without getting used to that.
The Coen Brothers had me with their first film back in 1984, Blood Simple. The plot synopsis on IMDb goes like this: “A rich but jealous man hires a private investigator to kill his cheating wife and her new man. But, when blood is involved, nothing is simple.”
Not perhaps the best choice for a date movie, but never mind. We’re still watching films together and always turn out for the Coens.
I’ve not seen Blood Simple since it came out so the narrative arc is obscured by mist. But I do remember certain moments, including the startling shock when a newspaper is flung against a porch. Now that doesn’t sound much, but in the film it lifts you from your seat. Then there was that hand impaled on a shard of glass. There was a muddy field in there somewhere. And there was blood. And bloodied ineptitude. There often is with the Coens.
So many films and so many good films. Some are better than others – Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men, Burn After Reading – but there is rarely a dud moment.
Fargo is one of the greatest, a snowbound crime drama in which the pregnant police officer Marge Gunderson quietly and persistently goes about tackling a bunch of hopeless criminals. That film was made into a fine TV remake starring Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton. Now a new series takes us back with a shiver and a giggle to snowy, folksy Minnesota.
Last night’s first episode began with something I still don’t understand, but that’s the way sometimes: with the Coens and, to be fair, with me. A western was being filmed in the desert. It was February and cold instead of hot. Ronald Reagan was the (unseen) star. What we did see was a grumpy actor playing an Indian and the director trying to jolly him along during a cigarette break.
After that extended opening, it was back to Minnesota and bungling criminals. A ham-fisted shootout in a waffle bar saw a twitchy goon kill three innocent people. He then yanked the steak-knife from his back, walked out and was hit by a passing car.
In case you haven’t watched, I won’t say more.
What I will say is that Fargo started full of weird, off-kilter promise. Once again, as in the first series, people are pulled into a dumb vortex by their own actions. A nervous young wife (Kirsten Dunst) and her solid butcher husband (Jesse Plemons) are ejected from timid domesticity after bizarre fate twists into murder.
Cleverly, this new series is a remake of the remake: it heads back to 1979 and the only familiar character from that first series is gruff café owner Lou Solverson, here seen back in the days when he was a young policeman. Lou has to investigate the triple waffle-house murder and work out why there’s a shoe high in a tree next to the skid marks on the icy road.
As you might expect, the explanation involves strangeness and much black comedy – and quite the most hilariously gruesome hit-and-run imaginable.
That’s the thing about the Coens, whether in their films or this TV spin-off. They haven’t lost their love of the quietly weird or the mutedly outrageous. They are still excited by what they do, still sprinkle their films with the dust of strange mischief.
The trailer for their next movie – Hail, Caesar! – looks as promising as ever. It’s about a 1950s Hollywood fixer who has to keep the stars in line. Well that’s the brief synopsis. But there will be more layers in there than in a lasagne, you can be sure of that.
But until then we have the new series of Fargo. Incidentally, in my old job I was a television critic for a while among many other roles. I loved that job. Anyone need a second-hand TV critic?