Before the TV series there was the Coen brothers 1996 masterpiece. Fargo stars Frances McDormand as a pregnant Chief of police investigating a triple murder in the small snow filled town of the title during the 1980’s.
The plot kicks in with William H. Macy’s car dealer Jerry Lundgaard coming up with a plan to have his wife kidnapped for the ransom money – things quickly go wrong and three people are left dead on a snowy road.
The key moment sees McDormand’s Maggie Dundersen arriving at the crime scene with her low-watt deputy Lou “Okay, so we got a trooper pulls someone over, we got a shooting, these folks drive by, there’s a high speed pursuit ends here and then this execution type deal” she says whilst Lou is more interested in the cars dealer tags. “I’m not sure I agree with you 100% on your police work there Lou” says Maggie without trying to put him down. She deflates the situation with a joke – “did you hear the one about the guy who couldn’t afford personalised plates, so he changed his name to J3L2404?”
It’s a perfect signifier to the winning blend of crime and comedy that carries the film along.