Miller’s Crossing (1990)
The Coen brothers (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen) really started to get noticed after writing and directing Fargo (1996). The popularity of the indie writers and directors continued to increase with each movie that they made together. However, when most people look back on the Coen brothers’ career as filmmakers, they usually don’t look further back than Fargo. Miller’s Crossing seems to fall between the cracks.
I was 4 years old when this movie was released, but I watched it for the first time when I was 13 years old. It was the first Coen brothers’ movie that I had seen and it was the beginning of a new friendship.
Miller’s Crossing is a gangster film about Tom Regan (Gabriel Byrne), a heavy gambler and trusted confidant to two rival mob bosses during the 1920s. Regan finds himself caught in the middle of a power struggle and all out gangland war while trying to manipulate both sides against each other.
The movie was written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen and the rest of the noteworthy cast includes Albert Finney, Jon Polito, John Turturro, Marcia Gay Harden, Steve Buscemi, J.E. Freeman, Mike Starr, Olek Krupa, and Michael Jeter.
The film is an excellent homage to the James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart gangster movies of old. The writing and directing is flawless. The Coen brothers resurrected the 1920s gangster era all the way down to the soda bottles, pocket watches, fedora hats, tommy guns, rotary phones, pinky rings, dirty coppers, smoking jackets, robes, stogies, custom three piece suits, and of course, the model T. The costumes and set designs were perfect.
The movie has an R rating, but I don’t think that rating would live up to today’s standards. There is hardly any swearing, and the sex is insinuated. There is violence, but it is not extremely graphic. One scene shows a girl topless, but she is wearing nipple tassels. As far as I’m concerned, that’s frontal side-boob. I don’t think that alone is enough to garner an R rating. In other words, the movie is basically PG-13.
My oldest brother once pointed out to me how the Coen brothers love having big guys sitting behind desks arguing or yelling at people sitting across from them. He was right. Watch almost any Coen brothers’ movie and you will get just that. I think the reason behind this is that usually the dialogue in their movies is so very well-written. An office setting is a good place to get the point across. People tend to pay more attention to you if you are behind a podium or desk, especially if you are yelling or arguing a point. Just look at Barack Obama, or Hitler. Don’t get me wrong, both men are opposites, but both men could definitely deliver a speech. As bad as Hitler was, people eat up what he said like it was candy. They did the same for Obama. Well thought out dialogue delivered to an audience with explosive vigor while standing behind a podium or desk is enough to get people to listen. It certainly has worked for the Coen brothers and Miller’s Crossing is a classic example of that.
The Coen brothers were lucky enough early on to be able to get great actors to act in their movies. This is harder to do for independent filmmakers. Miller’s Crossing is one of my favorite Gabriel Byrne films. He gives a slick performance and it must have been contagious because in my opinion, this is Albert Finney’s best movie. Marcia Gay Harden easily transforms into a 1920s dame and does a likable job. This is the first movie that I really liked John Turturro in. Jon Polito gives his best performance channeling the likes of Edward G. Robinson. Steve Buscemi spits his dialogue like a pro. It was as if J.E. Freeman was plucked right out of a 1920s gangster movie. He played his role that well. These actors have all worn many different hats. This one fit them all like it was tailor made just for them.
Like fine wine, Miller’s Crossing gets better with age. If you are a Coen brothers fan already, you will most likely enjoy this movie. It is one of my favorite Coen brothers’ movies. It’s a classy gangster film.
I rate this movie a 9 on a scale of 1-10.
Buy, rent, or run? Buy.
Happy Birthday to Albert Finney! He turns 77 today.
Finney is an excellent character actor who started out making TV movies in the 50’s and has had many wonderful supporting roles in his career as an actor. My favorite Finney films are Miller’s Crossing (1990), Big Fish (2003), and most recently Skyfall (2012).