Brainerd Police Department
A pregnant and chipper police chief whose folksiness belies her competence.
- Beware the Silly Ones: Her cheerful, friendly personality doesn't conflict with her natural talent for policework.
- Big Eater: Being pregnant, she kind of has to be.
- Character Development: It's done very subtly, but Marge does grow as a character over the course of the story. While initially a perpetual optimist, eager to blindly trust and see the best in people, her meeting with Mike Yanagita changes her perception on human nature. After learning that everything Mike told her about his life was a lie, she returns to Jerry's office and is much more assertive with her line of questioning. This ultimately leads to Jerry's part in the kidnapping being discovered and the case being solved.
- Determinator: Being seven-months-pregnant won't stop her from solving a bizarre crime mostly by herself.
- Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: One of the most famous quotes of hers alludes to this, when speaking to Grimsrud. After arresting him at the end of the movie, Marge can't understand why he and his partner would get so many people killed, all for money.
- Great Detective: She's highly competent, putting together clues quickly and swiftly getting on the right path. The only thing that hinders her is her optimistic view of people, and even that doesn't hinder her much.
- Happily Married: To ol' Norm son-of-a-Gunderson.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Toyed with, when she finally finds Gaear Grimsrud. It takes skills to pull off a leg shot at 50+ feet with a snub-nose, and she only hits him the second time.
- Nerves of Steel: About what you'd want in a good law enforcement officer, but then you consider what the likelihood is that there's been any multiple homicides in Brainerd recently (especially ones as violent as these), and this quality suddenly stands out much more.
- Nice Girl: She's perpetually cheerful, good-natured, optimistic and considerate of others.
- Pregnant Badass: She's seven months into her pregnancy and still arrests the dangerous Gaear Grimsrud. And she subdues him by shooting him in the leg.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: It doesn't come from hate or cruelty (it's doubtful Marge has a malicious bone in her body), but from sheer incomprehension that a person would be as evil as to commit six counts of homicide for money. The speech is almost inadvertent.
- Sherlock Scan: Arriving at a few hours old crime scene, Marge deduces exactly what happened with a quick survey of the area, then figures out that the perp's car had dealer plates from the dead state trooper's memo.
- Smarter Than You Look: She tends to be the smartest person in the room, and the least obvious.
An officer with the Brainerd Police Department.
A middle-aged car salesman who needs money to pay his debts. His ridiculous and greedy plan to get some sets the plot in motion and quickly spirals out of his control.
- Animal Motifs: It's subtle, but there are pig figurines all over his house, symbolizing his gluttonous greed.
- Anti-Villain: Jerry isn't sadistic or cruel. His evil comes from his selfish nature and deep-rooted sense of inferiority.
- Bad Liar: He can't tell a lie to save his life. He only gets away with lying because he usually seems innocuous.
- Big Bad Wannabe: He wants to think of himself as a cool-headed mastermind, but he's way out of his league. He quietly panics the minute any of his plans go wrong, and all of his attempts at Xanatos Speed Chess are unsuccessful.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: In public, Jerry appears to be a meek and ingratiatingly polite milquetoast whom one would never suspect of breaking the law. In reality, Jerry's pleasant demeanor is merely a facade for his true nature as a highly amoral, petty individual who's willing to harm his own family to appease his grandiose sense of entitlement.
- Decoy Protagonist: The early scenes focus mainly on Jerry, as if to set him up as the film's Villain Protagonist. This changes when Marge, a more clear-cut hero, enters the picture.
- Didn't See That Coming: Jerry's plan was that his wife would be kidnapped for a day or two, he would get the ransom, pay off his debts, and no one would be the wiser. It all goes wrong very quickly. The three dead bodies, his father-in-law refusing to play ball, the murder of his wife, and the unraveling of his lies destroy him.
- Didn't Think This Through: Jerry's entire plan. He hires two thugs whom he doesn't know and can't control on the recommendation of a violent parolee to kidnap his wife, apparently without considering the traumatic effect it might have on her. Or that the thugs might try to blackmail him for more money once they have his wife and know that he is scamming his father-in-law. Or that his stingy, bossy and distrustful father-in-law might try to interfere rather than just hand over a million dollar ransom. Jerry also completely forgot about how his semi-estranged teen son would take the kidnapping (and possible murder) of his mother.
- Dirty Coward: He tries to steal $320,000 from his father-in-law to cover his debts. At the end of the movie, he's still trying to escape out of the window of his hotel room. He doesn't get far.
- Evil Is Not a Toy: Finds this out the hard way when his wife and father-in-law are murdered, along with four other innocent people, and he himself is arrested, leaving his teenage son an orphan.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Even when his plan begins falling apart, he never swears once during the entire movie. The closest Jerry gets to it is an "Oh for Christ's sake!" when Showalter says he wants the entire $80,000 ransom, and "What the Christ" when he flees while being questioned by Marge.
- Greed: He tells Showalter and Grimsrud that he'll give them half of the $80,000 ransom for kidnapping his wife. Meanwhile, he tells Wade that they've demanded $1 million. While he needs $320,000 to pay his undisclosed debts, assuming he would have paid the $40,000 to the kidnappers, that would net him $640,000 in pure, stolen profit.
- Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: He may not necessarily be a bloodthirsty sociopath, but he's definitely not sympathetic, since he brings all of his problems on himself and ruins several innocent peoples' lives due to his own selfish greed.
- It's All About Me: As a man willing to have his own wife kidnapped for the sake of a relatively paltry one million dollars, it is glaringly apparent that Jerry Lundegaard cares only about himself.
- Kick the Dog: He knowingly endangers his wife by having her kidnapped by a pair of criminals just for the sake of cheating his Jerkass father-in-law out of a million bucks.
- My God, What Have I Done?: The consequences of his actions seem to affect him when he finds the corpses of Wade and the parking attendant.
- Noodle Incident: The circumstances that led to him desperately needing $320,000 are never explained, the implications being it was something shady, as he can't get the loan by legal means.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: During his second interview with Marge, he panics and decides to flee. The police later track him to a motel in Bismarck, where he is arrested trying to climb out the window.
- Villainous Breakdown: He has several small ones over the course of the film, but the big one comes right at the end when the police track him down and arrest him in a motel room in Bismarck, making a rather pathetic attempt to escape through his window and crying out in a high-pitched squealing noise when they grab him and pin him to the bed.
Jerry's wife who he has kidnapped to scam her father out of $1 million.
- Alone with the Psycho: She doesn't survive her time with Grimsrud.
- Bound and Gagged: To be precise, she has a black sack over her head after her abduction and her hands are tied behind her back.
- Butt-Monkey: When all is said and done, Jean is at the very bottom of the film's totem pole. Not only does her own husband hire two dangerous idiots to kidnap her for $1 million, but her own father decides to haggle with the kidnappers despite being already very rich. Finally, she gets beaten to death offscreen and nobody seems to care.
- Demoted to Extra: She starts out as an important character, but the second she is kidnapped, she becomes nothing more than a Hostage Macguffin without any lines. Though she continues to survive for most of the film as a Living Prop, she is offhandedly killed offscreen by Grimsrud, almost as if her death was an insignificant event even to the Coens.
- Housewife: Doesn't receive much more characterization than wife and mother.
- Killed Offscreen: Beaten to death by Grimsrud for shrieking too much.
- Smarter Than You Look: Her attempt to escape the two kidnappers by hiding in the shower next to the open window is surprisingly clever and almost fools them. Almost.
Jerry and Jean's teenage son.
- Brilliant, but Lazy: Downplayed. He's apparently not living up to his academic potential and would rather play hockey and hang out at McDonald's with his friends.
- Polka Dork: He apparently plays the accordion and is a fan of polka music.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: His mother and grandfather are murdered and his father is sent to prison. He likely inherits money from Wade and will be financially secure, but it's not clear what will happen to him until he turns 18.
Jerry's wealthy father-in-law and boss, who owns a car dealership.
- Character Death: Shot seven times by Carl Showalter.
- Control Freak: Despite the strict instructions of the kidnappers, Wade ignores all advice to the contrary so he can oversee the money transfer himself.
- Dying Moment of Awesome: He adamantly refuses to hand over the money if he doesn't get his daughter back first. As a result, he gets shot in the stomach for trying to be a hero, but before dying, squeezes off a shot that grazes Carl's cheek, leaving him whining, bleeding all over the place, and screaming in pain.
- Greed: He's willing to haggle with his daughter's kidnappers over the ransom money, despite already being a very rich man.
- Grumpy Old Man: Wade is in a perpetually foul mood.
- Jerkass: He makes no secret of his dislike for Jerry, viewing him as a screw-up. In all fairness, that is a pretty accurate summation of Jerry.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Wade may not be a criminal, but he's one of the most unsympathetic characters in the film, being bad-tempered, arrogant, greedy, and stupid, all of which cause his death. His arrogance and stupidity lead him to believe that just a few stern words from him will intimidate professional criminals into handing over his daughter. His greed makes him insist that he get his daughter before he hands the money over (his bringing a gun to the exchange suggests that he plans to face the crooks down himself and give them nothing) and his general obnoxiousness enrages an already angry Carl into shooting him.
- Obnoxious In-Laws: Wade is a textbook example. He refuses to lend his son-in-law any money at all (even backhandedly mocking him for it) and screws him over on an investment. His insistence in handling the money drop-off because he doesn't trust Jerry ends with his death.
- Papa Wolf: Deconstructed Trope. His insistence on handling the ransom money is tainted with his dislike of Jerry. As far as he knows, the kidnappers gave specific instructions for Jerry to bring the money, so going himself could very well endanger Jean. His John Wayne act when interacting with Showalter is completely ineffective, gets himself killed, and exacerbates the danger to his daughter's life even further.
A fast-talking, funny-looking small-time criminal who tags along with Grimsrud only to find he's in over his head.
- Bait the Dog: Immediately points out what a bad idea Jerry's plan is, and even starts trying to talk him out of it before saying "fuck it" and committing to the kidnapping.
- Big Bad Duumvirate: Downplayed. Carl and Grimsrud are the two main villains of the story. However, the consistently clumsy Carl is constantly overshadowed by the stone-cold killer that Grimsrud is.
- Boisterous Weakling: Fancies himself a hardened criminal. Needless to say, the tough guy image he tries to present fools nobody.
- Bribe Backfire: He tries to bribe the state trooper who pulls them over, which only arouses suspicion and leads to Grimsrud killing the trooper.
- Catchphrase: "I'm not gonna debate you, Jerry."
- Cluster F-Bomb: He drops these anytime he gets angry or worked up about something, which, needless to say, is pretty often.
- Co-Dragons: He and Grimsrud were supposed to be this to Jerry. It didn't play out that way.
- Deadpan Snarker: Averted. He seems like one because he's played by Steve Buscemi, and he does constantly make sour little remarks in a tone that suggests snarkery, but they're seldom witty or even funny; he just bitches constantly, and it drives his partner up the wall. He is shown elsewhere to be a hopeless dork who thinks that the music of José Feliciano is the height of sophistication.
- Evil Is Petty: First, he gets into an argument with a parking attendant over $4 when he's about to get $20,000. Then he attempts to haggle over a few thousand dollars with a guy that he knows has a hair-trigger temper right after stashing almost $1 million. The last one gets him killed.
- Kick the Dog: Heartlessly laughs as a scared and desperate Jean attempts a hopeless getaway, falling down in the snow.
- Motor Mouth: In sharp contrast to Grimsrud, Carl cannot shut up. He's fully capable of carrying on entire conversations by himself.
- Mouth of Sauron: Does all the talking, despite the fact that, as Shep later reveals, Grimsrud is supposed to be the one in charge.
- Mutilation Conga: First, Carl is given a humiliating beatdown by Shep. Then Carl is shot in the face by Wade during the botched ransom collection. Then Grimsrud decides to bury an axe into Carl's neck. While that kills Carl, his body is then stuffed into a woodchipper.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: He suffers one at the hands of Shep.
- Not-So-Harmless Villain: True, he's a textbook example of a wannabe criminal. With that said, he still commits two of the film's seven murders.
- Phrase Catcher: He's frequently described by others as 'funny-looking'.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Tells Shep Proudfoot to "go smoke a Peace Pipe" when the latter angrily confronts him over threatening his parole.
- Porn Stache: It contributes to the aforementioned funny look.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: The talkative, hot-tempered red to Gaear's icy blue.
- Screams Like a Little Girl: When Gaear shoots the cop.
- Sir Swears-a-Lot: His swearing increasing in frequency as the film goes on.
- Stupid Crooks: He sets up a clandestine meeting in a parking lot, despite there being an obvious witness (the parking attendant) that he'll have to kill, thus creating another murder scene. He also forgets to switch the license plates on the car, which a cop notices and thus sets off an escalating series of fuck-ups. He buries the money in a field by a fence post, with the only marker being a pathetic ice scraper.
- Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: He and Grimsrud can't stand each other. Their personalities clash constantly while their circumstances force them to work together. It all comes to a head when Carl pushes his luck one too many times and is murdered for his troubles.
- Those Two Bad Guys: With Grimsrud.
- Too Dumb to Live: Later, he argues with his psychotic accomplice over a car (despite having just made almost $1 million in secret).
A sociopathic hired criminal from Sweden who rarely speaks.
- Alliterative Name: Gaear Grimsud.
- Ax-Crazy: Set off into murderous rages by seemingly the slightest things. As Carl finds out, he can be this in a very literal way.
- Badass Longcoat: Gaear has a liking for long leather trench coats.
- Berserk Button: Threatening his friend and fellow criminal Shep Proudfoot is a good way to set him off. Carl found this out the hard way.
- Beware the Quiet Ones: He doesn't have much to say, but when he does say something, it's quite important.
- Big Bad: Technically shares the role with Carl, but Grimsrud is the most violent and pressing antagonistic force. Jerry may be the one who hired him, but Grimsrud turns the simple kidnapping into a brutal spectacle, murdering his way through any problems he encounters. In the end, after he kills Carl and Jerry flees, he becomes the final enemy for Marge to face.
- Big "SHUT UP!": Gives one to Jean Lundegaard after she starts whimpering after he shoots the cop.
- Catchphrase: He says "You know?" four times in the whole movie, and he doesn't get many lines.
- Co-Dragons: He and Carl were supposed to be this to Jerry. It didn't play out that way.
- The Comically Serious: He's an emotionless, murderous machine, but he's this in his more comedic moments — his broken English and Skewed Priorities intermixed with his deadpan reaction to absolutely everything create some moments of levity with him between his constant murders.
- Deadpan Snarker: He's not impressed by Carl's pathetic attempts at bribery."You'll 'take care of it'. You're a smooth smoothie, you know?"
- Dragon-in-Chief: He may not have masterminded the kidnapping, but it later becomes clear that Grimsrud is the biggest threat when compared to the less competent Carl and the outright inept Jerry.
- Enigmatic Minion: He works as this.
- Establishing Character Moment: He kills a cop who refuses Carl's bribe and then two unfortunate witnesses who happen to drive by the crime scene. All that without showing any emotion at all.
- Evil Is Petty: Kills Mrs. Lundegaard because her shrieking was annoying.
- Evil Sounds Deep: In the German dub his voice is deeper than the original who is more low than deep.
- Final Boss: The story concludes when he is finally apprehended.
- Funny Foreigner: Being a Swede, he can be this in his lighter moments.
- Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: The latter.
- Hyper-Competent Sidekick: It's little wonder that Shep would only vouch for Gaear. He frequently shows himself as smarter and more efficient than Carl, quickly taking care of 'problems' like a state trooper. In retrospect, things might have progressed a little more smoothly if Gaear had been the one to make the exchange. His bad temper eventually gets the better of his competence, however.
- Lack of Empathy: The fact he killed people left and right without even blinking and justified Mrs. Lundegaard's murder by saying simply that "she started shrieking" without remorse shows how little he respects the lives of the others.
- Leave No Witnesses: Coupled with Murder Is the Best Solution. When he sees the couple that saw the dead state trooper, he chases them down in the car and kills them both.
- Murder Is the Best Solution: A true believer in this. Just ask the state trooper and the couple.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Gaear Grimsrud.
- Psycho for Hire: He's a remorseless monster who doesn't hesitate to brutally murder anyone who causes him a slight inconvenience.
- The Quiet One: Something that Carl notes with annoyance.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: The stoic, quiet blue to Carl's red.
- Ruthless Foreign Gangsters: He's Swedish (or at least North European) and the evilest character in the movie by far.
- Soft-Spoken Sadist: The few times he talks he sounds very calm and collected.
- The Sociopath: To a T!
- The Stoic: He doesn't change expression beyond that of a bored gaze until he's shot.
- Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: He and Carl can't stand each other. Their personalities clash constantly while their circumstances force them to work together. It all comes to a head when Carl pushes his luck one too many times and is murdered for his troubles.
- Those Two Bad Guys: With Carl.
- Trademark Favorite Food: He loves pancakes. Enough that he makes Carl stop over so he can have some.
- The Unfettered: Kidnapping, murder, mutilating a corpse... nothing slows Grimsrud down. Except getting shot in the leg by a pregnant woman.
- Villainous Friendship: Seems to have one with Shep Proudfoot. He kills Carl when the latter threatens Shep.
- White Hair, Black Heart: He has white-blond hair and is a psychopathic monster.
A Native American ex-con who puts Jerry in touch with Grimsrud.
- Awesome Mccool Name: A police officer has to clarify that it's a name.
- Badass Native: He's an ex-convict who's good in a fight.
- Berserk Button: He does NOT want to go back to prison.
- Cluster F-Bomb: When furiously beating up Carl for getting him on the police's radar.
- Grease Monkey: Works as a mechanic.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: He gives one to Showalter, including whipping and strangling him with a belt, when it becomes apparent that his parole is threatened by the man's presence. He's so enraged that he also assaults a prostitute and a man who comes to complain about the noise.
- Not So Stoic: When Jerry and later Marge speak to him, he's terse and expressionless. When he's beating Carl to a pulp over blowing his cover about his involvement with them, not so much.
- The Quiet One: Almost as much as Grimsrud. It's probably why they got along so well.
- Villainous Friendship: It is implied that he has one with Grimsrud.
- Continuity Nod: He becomes the first film character directly referenced in the series in the second episode of Season 3. Emmit Stussy mentions him as another businessman he knows.
- Honest Corporate Executive: He's not as cold as Wade, and treats Jerry well while remaining a firm-willed and savvy businessman.
- Nice Guy: He's also the only one who considers how the kidnapping will affect Scotty his own father and grandfather on the other hand are just concerned with the money.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Stan disappears and isn't seen after Wade's death, though he's apparently decided to cooperate with the investigation according to Officer Lou.
- Season 3 of the series reveals that he is still alive as of 2010 and has made his fortune by building condos.
Marge's artist husband.
- Happily Married: To Marge. They don't show any big proclamations of undying love; their love is shown in small moments, like Norm making eggs for her or Margie being so proud that his stamp was chosen.
- House Husband: He takes care of the house and works on his painting while his wife is off being a police chief.
- Nice Guy: A fundamentally sweet-natured guy who brings his wife lunch at work, contently spending his days fishing and painting.
- The Stoic: He doesn't show much emotion or excitement.
Marge's old classmate who asks her out to dinner.
- Asian and Nerdy: He's an engineer at Honeywell. Or so he claims.
- Basement-Dweller: He is a middle-aged man who lives with his parents.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Mike appears to be a Nice Guy, but, in reality, he's a creepy and obsessive man.
- Consummate Liar: Everything he says should be taken with a heaping spoonful of salt.
- Inelegant Blubbering: Mike breaks down into pathetic sobs when Marge rejects him.
- Stalker with a Crush: He stalked a woman so much she had to move away, and then fabricated a story to Marge about how they were married but she died.
- Walking Spoiler: Almost everything he says is a lie, so it's hard to discuss him without spoiling The Reveal.