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Joel & Ethan Coen, USA, 1990, 114 minutes
Miller's Crossing is a wonderfully suspenseful film set in gangster-ridden city during the prohibition era filled with moments of deadpan violence and the darkly comic. Tom Reagan (Gabriel Bryne) is an amoral illegitimate son with habits for picking the wrong horse, the wrong woman and for upsetting all the wrong people. Tom is the lieutenant and close friend of the city's head boss and unofficial mayor Leo (Albert Finney). Life is good or could be except that a gang war is about to erupt over Leo's fatal love for the femme Verna (Marcia Gay Harden) and his protection of Verna's vile brother Bernie (John Turturro). Tom tries to save Leo from himself only to end up isolated and in the middle of the war. Surviving by his wit and nerve Tom becomes a loose cannon whose only real loyalty is to his hat.
Gabriel Byrne gives perhaps his most definitive performance as Tom Reagan, shades of which he brought to his character in The Usual Suspects. It says a lot for Gabriel's performance that his heartless and arrogant Tom comes across as likeable and charming. Albert Finney is also in fine form playing Leo and very nearly steals the film in a memorable cigar set piece. The cast as a whole is brilliant, each character appears vivid and credible and is notable for a pre-Reservoir Dogs appearance by Steve Buscemi as well as cameos from Sam Raimi and Frances McDormand.
The visuals used in the film are superb. The grimy city is contrasts with the leafy beauty of Miller's Crossing and yet both settings are coloured from the same restrictive palette. The scripts focus on characterisation is matched by the camera with each scene's principal character becoming the focus as the intermediate action takes place in the background or hinted at off-camera.
Miller's Crossing is arguably the most enjoyable of the early Coen brother's films as well as modern classic.
Review by Breandan Goodall
Written for EUFS Programme Spring 2004
In an unspecified Eastern American city during Prohibition, Italian gang leader Caspar (Jon Polito) has a problem called Bernie (John Turturro) a double dealing petty criminal who is cutting in on his piece of the action. When he asks Leo (Albert Finney) the city's Irish boss to get rid of Bernie, Leo's refusal, because he's infatuated with Bernie's sister Verna (Marcia Gay Harden), sparks off a gang war during which Leo's chief lieutenant Tom (Gabriel Byrne), who's sleeping with Verna, feigns desertion, friendship and murder
As usual the Coen brothers blend their complex plot with a setting that's meticulously detailed. The locale of Miller's Crossing is an artificial town created out of every gangster film ever made, and moodily photographed in shades of brown and grey by Barry Sonnenfeld. The film is shot through with cleverly handled violent interventions. Watch Leo despatch his would-be assasins with Tommy-gun and pistol to the strains of Danny Boy on an old gramophone, and note Tom's willingness to submit himself to punishment to preserve his mentor's fortunes. The Coen's genius lies in blending the content and the form of their film until they're indistinguishable, so that by the time the conspiracy and the intrigue are explained the audience is past caring.
If your brain doesn't fuse then watch for cameos by Sam Raimi, Steve Buscerni, Frances MacDormand and Colm Meaney.
Review by Stephen Cox
Taken from EUFS Programme 1994-95