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.