Miller’s Crossing (1990)

Directed by Joel Coen
Cinematography Barry Sonnenfeld

Tom Reagan (played by Gabriel Byrne) is the right-hand man, and chief adviser, to a mob boss, Leo (Albert Finney). Trouble is brewing between Leo and another mob boss, Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito), over the activities of a bookie, Bernie Bernbaum (John Turturro) and Leo and Tom are at odds on how to deal with it. Meanwhile, Tom is in a secret relationship with Leo’s girlfriend, Verna (Marcia Gay Harden), who happens to be the sister of Bernie. In trying to resolve the issue, Tom is cast out from Leo’s camp and ultimately finds himself stuck in the middle between several deadly, unforgiving parties.

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The Best Mobster Film Evere Made, bar none.

15 September 2006 | by Blackavaar (United States) – See all my reviews

Contrary to what Pete the Geek says in his comment this film is not a comedy. I suspect he is a fan of the old black and whites and so he believes this is a spoof of them which it is most certainly not. This is a pure drama with perfect dialog and excellent acting all around. The film basically tells the events that unfold around a Gangland war between the Irish and Italian mobs of the late 20s. Gabriel Byrne plays Tom, Leo’s (Albert Finney) right hand man and adviser who disagrees with his boss’s decision to protect the conman brother (John Turturro) of his girlfriend Verna (Marcia Gay Harden) and must work his own wily methods to protect Leo from this decision.

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This is a masterpiece of modern film and definitely shows that the Cohen brothers can do anything with film. The dialog and accents are all perfectly executed in vintage 20s style and flare, the sets are absolutely beautiful and the costume work is so good you almost feel like you stepped back in time. Anyone who doesn’t love this film should go back and try watching it again. The musical score alone is enough to make it worth while.

The Jewel of the Coen Crown

10/10
Author: PClark from Cincinnati, OH
8 July 1999

One of the great undiscovered gems of recent movie history. In my opinion, Miller’s crossing is easily the best of the Coen brothers’ films, and one of the true classics of American cinema.

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On the surface, the story of warring gangsters in 1920’s America is one that has been told many times before. But never before has it been handled with such artistry and precision. The (rather violent) action scenes keep the movie going along at a brisk pace, and the camera work is every bit the equal of “Fargo”.

I became a lifelong Gabriel Byrne fan as a result of this movie, despite his best efforts to disappoint me since. Byrne’s Tom Reagan is a compellingly amoral character, who takes more unchallenged beatings than perhaps anyone in film history. Men beat him up. Women beat him up. Collection men, bookies, gangsters, and even his boss gives him a terrible thrashing, and he hardly lifts a finger in opposition (with one notably humorous exception).

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Albert Finney is tremendous as Leo, the local crime boss. His “Danny Boy” scene should go down in film history as one of the greatest pieces ever filmed. Jon Polito is at once absurdly funny and threateningly psychotic as Johnny Caspar, Leo’s rival in the turf war. J.E. Freeman, John Turturro, and Marcia Gay Harden all lend strong support in a cast that was assembled and performs to near perfection.

I will never understand why this film has not received more recognition and acclaim. As an example of the modern style of Film Noir, it has no equals (“The Usual Suspects” would rate a close second). Among gangster films, only “The Godfather” can compete, and “Miller’s Crossing” features superior pacing and dialog, although it lacks “The Godfather’s” epic proportions. Perhaps someday this film will receive, like “The Manchurian Candidate” and “Touch of Evil”, the belated accolades it so richly deserves.

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The Intellectual’s Gangster Film

10/10
Author: Geoffrey Crayon from New York
24 May 2003

“I’m talkin’ about friendship. I’m talkin’ about character. I’m talkin’ about–hell Leo, I ain’t embarrassed to use the word–ethics.” So Jon Polito, as crime-boss Johnny “Caspar,” describes to his overlord, Albert Finney as “Leo,” his point of view while seeking permission to kill a double-crossing underling (played by John Turturro) in the opening lines of __Miller’s Crossing__. Had the script sought only to explore the power relationship between the two chief mobsters (one the rising Italian, the other the diminishing Irishman), this would have been a very good gangster film. It portrays an earlier era in the nation’s history of organized crime (perhaps Chicago in the late ’20s), and one can imagine Leo as the Irish predecessor of __The Godfather__’s Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando).

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Just as __The Godfather__ was really about family relationships and the ethical complexities arising when familial loyalty collides with the business of violence, however, __Miller’s Crossing__ is actually about, as Caspar tells us, friendship and character put under the enormous strain of that same business of violence. The film, therefore, centers on Leo’s trusted adviser Tom (played flawlessly by the Irish actor Gabriel Byrne). Tom is not a gunsel, but the brain behind Leo’s muscle. His decisions carry life and death consequences, however, and we watch him try to live with himself, to preserve his character, as he works out a code that will help him and his friends survive brutally violent upheavals. Critics of the film have cited its graphic cruelty and the seeming coldness of its characters, yet these are essential features in developing the film’s theme.

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Sentimentality might get any of the major characters killed, and one notes the pathos and dark humor that underline an ironic distance that each character, especially Tom, cultivates as a tool for survival.

Clues abound as we wonder what Tom will do next. Follow, for example, the men’s hats over the course of the film. Who “keeps his lid on,” so to speak, and who loses his? Note the number of times characters exclaim “Jesus!” or “Damn!” when saying the name “Tom.” What has he sacrificed? Has he damned himself?

Spectacular action sequences, beautiful production values, top-notch camera work by Barry Sonnenfeld, a haunting musical score, and the best dialogue ever written by the Coen brothers make this a great gangster film. The fascinating and complex theme of friendship, character, and ethics make it one of the great films from any genre.

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masterpiece

Author: (meisterpuck@yahoo.com) from detroit
18 March 2001

In my modest opinion, this film is the Coen’s greatest achievement to date, even greater than Fargo. I was happy to see so many recent entries on this page, because that means something I predicted long ago is coming true: film buffs are finally “discovering” Miller’s Crossing, an underground masterpiece that has dwelt in obscurity for ten years.

The central motif of the hat, and Johnny Caspar’s preoccupation with the altitude thereof, brings to mind another underrated masterpiece, Drugstore Cowboy. The complex Jungian symbolism of forests, doors and especially hats is my favorite aspect of the film.

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The only criticism I’ve heard of this film (and I think it’s B.S.) has to do with the “over-acting”–a criticism that has been directed at more than one Coen film. Admittedly, Coen screenplays read more like novels than movie scripts and are not always actor-friendly. Gabriel Byrne, who appears in all but two scenes, does a great job playing an extremely complicated character. Tom Reagan is a smart guy surrounded by morons, and exists in a scenario where only muscle counts and brains don’t. And he hates it. And he hates himself because he knows he’s all brains and no heart. He tries to redeem himself through a selfless devotion to Leo, whom he hates. All this makes for an immensely challenging part, and the film could easily have fallen apart with a lesser actor than Gabriel Byrne playing the lead.

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But the acting is great from top to bottom: Marcia Gay Harden (in her big screen debut) as the hard-boiled moll; Jon Polito as the maniacal Johnny Caspar; Steve Buscemi as the hop-addicted Mink; J.E. Freeman, who is such a marvellous screen villain you have to wonder why he’s still toiling in obscurity; and Albert Finney, an actor who embodies the term “screen presence.” But the Grand Prix goes to John Turturro, who carries the most powerful scene in the movie: when Tom takes Bernie out to Miller’s Crossing to “whack” him.

Another criticism frequently levelled against the Coens is that they are preoccupied with “scenes” and don’t focus enough on plot coherence. This too is an invalid criticism, as far as I’m concerned. Some people are irritated by a film that you have to watch a couple times to fully understand, but that’s precisely the kind of film that I love, and that’s why I love Miller’s Crossing so much. Every time I see it I pick up on something that I didn’t catch before.

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Speaking of “scenes”, the “Danny Boy” scene is the best. The second best is the following scene, where Tom and Terry walk through a hallway lined with goons. The third is the police raid on the Sons of Erin Club, in which Leo takes on the entire police force.

I’ll resist the temptation to call Miller’s Crossing “The Greatest Film of All Time”–because who has the right to say that? But I must say that it is my favorite film of all time.

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