If there's one word that describes this movie, it's aplomb. Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) has it. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) doesn't.
Jerry is dissatisfied. He has a lovely home, a doting wife and teenage son. The problem is, he works for his father-in-law, a crotchety, wealthy skinflint (Harve Presnell) who dislikes him. He's also in a bit of money trouble (that's personal, there). So he hires two men (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stomare) to kidnap his wife.
The plan is to ask for a sizeable ransom from his father-in-law, which Jerry will split with the kidnappers. Unfortunately for Jerry, nothing goes right.
The kidnappers avoid capture by killing a police officer and two witnesses. Enter Marge Gunderson. Seven months pregnant, Marge is the chief of police in Brainerd, Minn., home of Paul Bunyan. She moves slowly and methodically, talking in the laconic accents of the region. But Marge herself isn't slow. She directs an effective investigation, dealing with people who are obviously a great deal slower than she is. You can see it in her methods, her patience through insipid conversation. Her sharp retorts and direct delivery, and the scolding she gives a perpetrator.
The movie is as much a slice-of-life as it is a murder mystery/procedural. The characters are all at least a little charming in their way, which is what makes the climax - such as it is - such a surprise.
It isn't a face-paced movie. You have to be in the mood to settle down to watch, but it's a very good, well-acted movie.