Few can hope to walk in the path of the Coen brothers. The inimitable, offbeat director/producer duo have produced a back catalogue of works which are simultaneously so strange and iconic, that any cinematic homage to them would have felt cheap and over-worked. And yet, Fargo’s recent adaptation for the small screen has somehow managed to replicate the dark frankness of the Coen’s feature film, whilst taking the Minnesota murder ploy to pastures new. Receiving an overwhelmingly positive critical reception, Noah Hawley’s TV series is proof that reproduction doesn’t have to be imitation.
The Coens weren’t the only figures reproduced in the reimagining of Fargo; responding to and breaking from Carter Burwell’s original cinematic score, Grammy nominated composer Jeff Russo proves that even music as fitting as Burwell’s can adapted, and well. Burwell’s composition reflected so perfectly the quiet creepiness of the Minnesota winter that it was impossible to imagine hearing anything else. Balancing downbeat, folk melodies with overblown and often melodramatic orchestral numbers, Burwell represented the tiny (and yet apparantly, major) tribulations of the film’s characters in his music.
Following up Burwell’s iconic blend of small-town melodramatics, Russo’s score holds up surprisingly well. Whilst there are noticeable nods to Burwell’s original effort, Russo has not been intimidated to reimagine the Fargo soundscape, adding a sense of poignancy which is missing from the film score. The music is multifaceted, containing shades of light and dark in every piece. Russo’s creation is significantly darker than the original score, suggesting that the off-beat Minnesota drawl might conceal an inner state much more sinister.
Just like Burwell’s own composition, Russo’s main theme is particularly telling, balancing multiple musical strands and yet still managing to suggest a coherent narrative foundation. Whereas Burwell favoured elements of folk music in his theme, Russo chooses to compose something a little more quiet and brooding. Nodding to Burwell’s folk influences in his glissandi strings, Russo develops the sound into a single character theme, as if the main string melody was indicative of Lester Nygaard’s entire narrative arc.
Whilst elements of the main theme are present throughout the rest of the soundtrack, it doesn’t fall victim to over-repetition. Russo is clearly a composer with a number of musical strings to his bow, unafraid to take the score in a variety of diverse and often surprising directions. Although action-heavy cues such as ‘Gus Pt. 2’ might not be as memorable as others, there are enough interesting musical choices to merit such tracks with repeat listenings. Quietly punctuating his moody score with a perpetual pizzicato undercurrent, Russo has created something interesting, original and, most importantly, which works. Hats off to Russo who, with his score for Fargo, proves that you can recreate something without damaging the integrity of the original.