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One of the great undiscovered gems of recent movie history. In my
Miller's crossing is easily the best of the Coen brothers' films, and one
the true classics of American cinema.
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).
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.
"I'm talkin' about friendship. I'm talkin' about character. I'm talkin'
I ain't embarrassed to use the word--ethics." So Jon Polito, as
Johnny "Caspar," describes to his overlord, Albert Finney as "Leo," his
view while seeking permission to kill a double-crossing underling (played
John Turturro) in the opening lines of __Miller's Crossing__. Had the
sought only to explore the power relationship between the two chief
(one the rising Italian, the other the diminishing Irishman), this would
a very good gangster film. It portrays an earlier era in the nation's
organized crime (perhaps Chicago in the late '20s), and one can imagine
as the Irish predecessor of __The Godfather__'s Don Vito Corleone (Marlon
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.
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.
In my modest opinion, this film is the Coen's greatest achievement to
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
In my opinion, "Miller's crossing" is by far the top work of the Coen
brothers, and one of the best movies in the history of cinema. The huge
Coens' talent being now fully recognized, I hope that this masterpiece will
get the credit it deserves.
The plot deals with the war between Irish and Italian gangsters, caused by the Jewish crook Bernie (the Coens like to joke with the rivalry of different ethnic groups). The crook's affectionate sister Verna is the mistress of Leo O' Bannion, the boss of the Irish gang, who consequently opposes to have him killed by the Italians. But Tom Reagan, the old mate and factotum of O' Bannion, has different plans... The story is extremely interesting, exciting, entertaining. There are no flaws in the development of the plot, despite its complications (a homage to the intricate classic film-noirs of the Golden Age). The script is sharp, cynical, sarcastic, full of memorable lines and of black sense of humor, with many delightful subtleties: the celebrated Coens' wit at its best. The photography is magnificent and very original. The music is great. The action scenes are superbly filmed: violence explodes suddenly and unexpectedly. The finale is perfect and splendidly crowns the movie.
Tom Reagan, played by Gabriel Byrne, is one of the most memorable characters I have seen on the screen. A gangster who tries to use intelligence instead of violence (with alternate success), following a peculiar moral code. Cynical but devoted to friendship. A systematic liar, but capable of generosity. Despite his skills, he is not ambitious, he prefer to be subject to a big-shot. And then, with all his smartness, he strangely chooses to destroy himself with alcohol and gambling. A magnificent psychological design. With this sober, brilliant, subtle performance, worth of a Bogart in great shape, Byrne just shows that he is the best actor in the world (my opinion, of course).
The aged Irish boss O' Bannion - Albert Finney is the opposite of Reagan: naive, sometimes dumb, with a strong love and childish attachment for his girl-friend, he is confident only in his own charisma and in brutal force. Speaking of brutal force, he will show in a gun-fight that he's still the number one, in spite of years passing (incidentally: this is one of the best action scenes I've ever seen).
Also the other characters are shaped with outstanding intelligence and care, from the main ones (Bernie, his sister, the Italian boss, his right-hand Dane) to the last of the thugs. The whole cast is fantastic: Finney, Turturro, Marcia Gay Hayden, Polito, Freeman and all the other excellent supporting actors. A special mention for the scaring gangster Eddie Dane - J.E. Freeman: he really makes you shriver. Turturro is a bit histrionic for my taste, but this is his style of acting, suited for the role of the crook, mean and coward, but cunning and dangerous as a snake.
To summarize, in "Miller's Crossing" fun, drama, action, suspense, mystery are masterly blended with deeper themes such as love, friendship and human loneliness. This movie is splendid, magnificent, unique, don't miss it.
This is for those who have seen the movie and given it the high hat.
"For a sheeny he's got a lot of good qualities." I'm watching the film AGAIN now and this gem just popped up. Any piece of dialog would make my quote book. This ain't no review. It's a response. First, seeing this as a gangster movie is like seeing Blade Runner as a sci-fi flick. Second, seeing this as film noir, with Tom as the typical anti-hero shows that we have to classify every film by the terms we are comfortable with. Finally, Tom is one of the most complex characters I've seen in film. Why? Because he's real. It reminds me a bit of the American Splendor comics and film where Pekar don't have to give a happy ending, a sad ending, clear symbolism, a strong message. Just a story even if it does not "fit" into what we expect from books, films, magazines, etc. Tom is one of my favorite characters and I still don't understand him and neither do you. This along with everything people have commented on (dialog, editing, characters, etc.) make the film in my opinion one of THE greatest films period. What makes Godfather better? Brando's tired speeches? This is a flick you can watch over and over and I stand by those who respect the genius of this film. So take ya flunkie and dangle and again- this paragraph is for those who give the high hat to Tom, the most conflicted and realistic personage in any film I've seen. Will you watch Tom with amazement or try to analyze his motivation based on film stereotypes? Let's get stinko.
I was blown away by this film the first time I saw it. After giving
myself a couple hours to shake off my dumbfounding amazement, I became
addicted. This film has everything. It's witty in its dialogue,
suspenseful in its action and violence, beautiful in its
cinematography, and (being so like the Coen brothers) it can make you
laugh and cringe in the same scene.
The script is superb. The characters are absorbing and the dialogue (as some reviewers have already observed) flows like words in a book. You have to watch some scenes more than once to totally get what's going on, and even then you still might miss something.
The acting is top-notch, even down to the lowest thug. Gabriel Byrne plays the antihero Tom to lonely perfection and Marcia Gay Harden's hooker without a golden heart is excellent. The rest of the cast is great as well, including good mobster Albert Finney and a funny cameo by Steven Buscemi. However, the show is stolen threefold by Jon Polito as the erratic Italian underboss Johnny Caspar, John Tuturro as the slimy "schmatta" Bernie Bernbaum and J.E. Freeman as Caspar's dark, vicious adviser/thug Eddie Dane. Jon Polito's monologue in the very beginning on ethics and Tuturro's desperate pleas at Miller's Crossing are both powerful scenes, and Freeman commands the screen whenever he is on.
My rating is a 10/10. The best part about this movie is that it gets better and better every time you watch it. Oh yeah...the Danny Boy scene is reason enough to watch this movie anyway.
There are very few films that engulf the viewer and demand them to give
their full attention. This is one of those rarities. While viewing this film
one finds themselves sharing the same space and breathing the same air that
the characters do. It's beautiful. It's the stuff of great story-telling.
I must admit, I am a great fan of Gabriel Byrne in anything, no matter what it is, so maybe I'm jaded. And as I have seen practically everything with him in it, I must say it is refreshing to see him work with an amazing cast and script to back up his talent.
And the music is terrific. How ironic to have "Danny Boy"-a sentimental grandparents' favorite- playing while machine guns are ripping apart mens' flesh. The cinematography is superb also. Not only do the characters speak in a language rich with visuals, they live in a moving painting.
This was one of those films where I watched all the way through the credits slack-jawed and was sad to see the film end. It's that good. I'm not especially a fan of gangster films but I am willing to make exceptions and Miller's Crossing is one of them.
There are many new movies that have been released on DVD this year.
Forget them, and pick up a copy of this movie. It has only recently
become available on DVD. The unavailability of this movie on DVD for so
many years has been a sin. I own this movie on laser disc and it is one
of the reasons that I still have a laser disc player.
I cannot do a better job than the other reviewers have in pointing out what make this film so outstanding. Just let me repeat the usual: The casting is flawless; the dialogue is on the mark, with dozens of juicy bon mots; the humor is sublime; the cinematography is absolutely gorgeous; and the plot, while complex, is still comprehensible enough not to detract from the action.
This movie is as close to flawless as a movie can be.
And one more thing, this movie has nothing in common with either "Yojimbo" (which was itself a rip-off of Dashiel Hammett's "Red Harvest") or "Fistful of Dollars". Well, OK, I'll grant that they both take place in towns dominated by two strong gangs of criminals (as if that's never been the case in any other movie,) but the other plot elements and the dialogue are completely original.
**** out of ****
This has got to be, hands down, one of the best gangster films ever
made, certainly in the last 20 years or so. Better even than Reservoir
Dogs, I'd say...which is a great film too, but just not nearly the same
caliber as this.
In a nutshell, the whole movie is about loyalty, and the affect it has on Tom Reagan, as well as everyone else around him. Tom is the central character in this story, and we basically get to experience this movie in his shoes (or wearing his hat, which would be a more appropriate analogy, and you'll understand why I say this after watching the film). In fact, I can probably count on one hand the number of scenes that Tom Reagan (played masterfully by Gabriel Byrne) does NOT appear in.
I won't go into great detail, because the story is full of subtleties...things that you won't notice even after seeing the movie several times. I think that's why I put it so high in my mind as a work of cinematic art. There has ALWAYS been something new that I discovered upon each viewing that I didn't see before, so the complexities of the story make it vastly more entertaining that, say, Titanic or some other Hollywood schlock that's being peddled in theaters. Which is probably why this film did poorly when it was first released, I didn't even see it until it came out on cable a year later.
The script is truly marvelous, and the snappy dialog hearkens back to the good old days of gangster films from the 30s with great actors such as James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, and Bogart. In fact, go get the Warner Bros. Gangster Classics Box set before you see this film...it'll give you a better appreciation of this film, in many different ways (the wise-cracks, the over-the-top gun battles, etc.). The only way the Coen Brothers could pay greater homage to the old gangster classics would have been to have filmed Miller's Crossing in black and white...which they didn't need to do anyway, this film just can't be beat in it's set design and imagery.
Oddly enough, there is almost no gratuitous sex in this mildly R-rated film...it's all implied, which is a nice touch given the way most R-rated films just give in to rampant sex and violence, just for the sake of being able to do it. Even the violence (which some posts have alluded to as excessive) just doesn't even compare with what most folks see on screen today...but that just it, the Coen Brothers use sex and violence in a subtle way that enhances (not detracts) from the film. We know more about what people feel about each other rather than just get to see to sweaty bodies going at it in bed. Don't get me wrong, I think sex and violence in adult films is not a bad thing...I just hate it when filmmakers just throw it in as a way of pleasing the crowd, especially when they don't show the consequences of what sex and violence can bring about in our society.
Anyway, I could go on and on...go BUY (not rent) this film, it'll be the best clearance-rack DVD you'll ever own!
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.
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.
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