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Review: Maggie Moore[s] – “Highly recommended”

Maggie Moore[s] is a more melancholy Fargo.

At the outset, we’re told that ‘Some of this actually happened…’  Fargo similarly opens with a claim that it’s a true story, yet that seems to have been a playful misdirection by its directors, the Coen Brothers.  It’s unclear whether Maggie Moore[s] is based on an actual event or rather inspired by the ‘True Crime’ genre.    One person disturbingly claimed that the film had been based in part on her mother’s murder without notifying the families, but we were unable to confirm this either way.

Where Fargo begins with the inception of an inept criminal conspiracy, Maggie Moore[s] opens with a woman fleeing in terror.  Both films are black comedies, but perhaps due to this opening, it felt that Fargo leaned much more into comedic territory than this.  And while ineptitude is central to the earlier film, balanced against Frances McDormand’s inexorable journey to the truth, the killer in Maggie Moore[s] is chillingly competent and hired by someone more cold-blooded and callous than William H. Macy’s Jerry Lundegaard, albeit just as scornfully pathetic.

That hanging ‘s’ in the title refers to the fact that two women with the same name, living a mile apart, are killed within a week of one another.  The audience is shown what’s going on almost immediately, while Jon Hamm’s Chief of Police must piece together a mystifying double murder involving mouldy food, neo-Nazis, and a vacuous but detail-oriented fame-chaser.

It’s a testament to Hamm’s performance that he almost – almost – seems like a regular guy instead of, you know, Jon Hamm.  He plays a Hollywood widower, which uplifts his attraction to female cast members by several orders of magnitude, yet he’s unable to move on at the same pace as the world around him, struggling to surface now that he’s been permanently cut adrift from his soulmate.

He’s aided by Brit Nick Mohammed as a droll, slightly fish-out-of water Deputy prone to cliché … see what we did there?  Tina Fey plays a neighbourhood witness who might offer Hamm a chance at happiness should he be able to grasp it.  Both, like Hamm are great, though it’s Happy Anderson as the massive, implacable killer who most sticks in the memory.

Hamm’s Mad Men co-star John Slattery directs in an unfussy but clear way, based on a script by Paul Bernbaum, whose last movie credit was Next, the 2007 Nicolas Cage vehicle that was among the last few releases before the stars ‘anything for the money’ period really took off in 2011.

Slattery has directed the late Philip Seymour Hoffman before now and if someone of that tectonic talent wanted to work with him, it’s clear the guy knows his way around a film set.  Should Maggie Moore[s] be successful then expect to see a lot more of him behind the camera.  Will it?  Well, it’s certainly refreshing to be able to review a wholly adult movie without a fluttering cape in sight.

That said, for all the talk of superhero fatigue in cinema at the moment, the depiction of women being brutally killed as a movie plot device is, sadly, a much older trope.  The Maggies here could easily have been Mikes, or Marks and it may have made for a more memorable film.  That opening scene of impending violence certainly affected what followed for this viewer, but naturally others might respond more to the humour once the film moves on.

However, the melancholy tone does seem intentional, particularly in Hamm and Fey’s relationship.  Both are damaged people and it would be hard-hearted not to root for their happiness.  While Hamm’s character does need to get out of his own way, his principled, dare we say honourable Police Chief does once again mirror Marge Gunderson from Fargo.

Maggie Moore[s] might arguably be too close to its predecessor if anything, but it’s possibly both more accessible and less predictable.  The climax alone is worth the price of admission for anyone who enjoys these types of movies.  The film has flashes of excellence, including one scene that was enough to make this old reviewer swear out loud, a rare feat for someone who watches more films than is healthy.

The acting is generally excellent and many of the characters feel real, multi-dimensional and lived-in.  If you enjoy any crime movies (not just Fargo) then this comes highly recommended.

Maggie Moore[s] is available in theaters and on-demand from Friday June 16th.

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