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. Written by
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!
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