Written by Joel and Ethan; directed by Joel; produced by Ethan
Desperate for cash, car salesman Jerry Lundegaard arranges for two criminals to kidnap his wife so they can split the ransom money from her rich father. Things don’t go to plan.
Seen before? Yes, on VHS when it came out and a few times since.
Best performance: Frances McDormand won an Oscar for playing police officer Marge Gunderson. Quite right too. She’s ace.
Coen regulars (running total of appearances): As well as Frances McDormand (4), we get Steve Buscemi (4) and Peter Stormare (1) as kidnappers Carl Showalter and Gaear Grimsrud, while Bruce Campbell (2) plays a TV soap actor.
Best bit: How can I choose just one?! How about heavily pregnant Marge leaning over, hands on knees, to look closely at a snow-covered crime scene? “You see something down there, Chief?” asks her colleague. “No,” she replies, “I just think I’m gonna barf!”
Review: Absolutely brilliant. This is my favourite Coen Brothers movie (unless one of the six I still haven’t seen usurps it, of course). It’s a conventional crime plot – kidnap goes wrong – but with so many surprise kinks in the storytelling that it’s constantly entertaining. The cast, especially William H Macy and Frances McDormand, are fantastic: quirky yet believable. The Scandinavian-accented milieu, meanwhile, is so interesting that frankly anything could be going on and it would be watchable. The script is full of telling details, such as Marge’s pregnancy, which most thrillers wouldn’t even consider but give the whole film a unique tone and vibrancy. It’s often laugh-out-loud funny – occasionally slapstick, but usually macabre – while melancholy is never far away either. I could watch it over and over.
Ten wood-chippers out of 10.