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Miller's Crossing (1990)

  Directed by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Written by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, J. E. Freeman, Marcia Gay Harden, Jon Polito, John Turturro
Links: Miller's Crossing on the IMDb, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD, Buy the Soundtrack
Genre: Drama

This movie gets: 8.00 (2 ratings)
nofreelist.com Ranking: Ranked equal 53rd of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

Miller's Crossing (1990) is also mentioned in mino's review of Barton Fink (1991), citizenjoe's review of Intolerable Cruelty (2003) and em_fiction's review of The Man Who Wasn't There (2001).

"Gangsters and Coens — a winning combination" - a review by mino

What is it about the gangster-movie genre that makes it capable of producing such truly outstanding films? So many of the greatest movies of all time are about organised crime. There's Goodfellas (1990), there's The Untouchables (1987), Scarface (1983), and of course The Godfather (1972): all among the best movies of all time. I'm not sure what it is: perhaps it's just that only in a crime film of that scale can you combine the classic movie themes of ambition, politics, sex, love, and violence so easily. Well, it's fair to say that Miller's Crossing is not quite in the same elite company as these other films, but it is a bloody good watch — as you'd expect from any film by the Coen brothers, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.

Miller's Crossing is the story of a gang war: a battle between the Italian and Irish organised crime heads for control of the 1930s underworld. Gabriel Byrne is Tommy, right-hand man of the head of the Irish mob (Albert Finney), but after a falling-out, he's forced to re-evaluate his position.

At first, Miller's Crossing seems like it's so clichéd it's not funny. The accents are almost too much, for a start: everyone speaks like Rocky the gangster from the old Merrie Melodies cartoons, and uses phrases like ‘What's the rumpus?’. All the stereotyped characters are there: the incompetent hand-wringing mayor, the affable police chief (think Commissioner Gordon from Batman), the whimpering rat-faced snitch (played here by Steve Buscemi). It all seems kind of second-rate: like the Coens couldn't bother being original, they just followed the template. Either that, or they're trying to parody the whole genre, but not quite pulling it off.

The thing you soon come to realise, though, is that sometimes there's a reason that some things are clichés: they work. Normally, taking the easy way out and filling your movie up with clichés is a surefire way to get me offside: but in the case of Miller's Crossing, there's one key difference. Unlike most no-brainer Hollywood fare, the Coens are telling a fairly complicated, well-thought-out plot which actually requires you to think. By populating the background with clichés, the Coens have removed the need for you to work out every single character's motivation, etc. You can just go ‘oh, the little weaselly guy’, and then spend the rest of your time worrying about what's happening on screen. It's almost like a way of bypassing tedious character development so you can concentrate on the plot.

Also, the one-dimensional minor characters serve to throw the complex, carefully-crafted main characters into relief, something that's also helped by the many excellent performances in this film. Apart from Byrne and Finney, the standouts include Jon Polito as the opposing Mafia boss, J. E. Freeman as his sidekick The Dane (Tommy's Italian counterpart, if you like), and the show-stealing John Turturro as second-rung crim Billy Birnbaum.

Miller's Crossing is another in the pantheon of quality gangster films, infused with the Coens' trademark dry, black humour and lightning-quick witty dialogue. Music fans be warned, however: Miller's Crossing does for Danny Boy what Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) did for Zorba The Greek.

mino gives this movie 9 out of 10.
Review created on Sun 11 Jan 2004

"Early Coen goes gangsta" - a review by pearly

Contrary to what my surname may suggest, I am not particularly interested in gangster movies. But if anyone is going to make one that will interest me, it's bound to be those delightful brothers Ethan Coen and Joel Coen. In Miller's Crossing they present a fillum about crime in the 1930s, when people were routinely "offed" for doing the wrong thing by the people they owed money to. And, of course, they do this with style and humour.

Gabriel Byrne plays Tom Reagan, a man whose alliances shift and slide when he is told to get rid of Bernie (John Turturro), the man who also happens to be the brother of his main squeeze Verna (Marcia Gay Harden).

The story weaves its way back and forth as each of the players try to come out on top. Both Byrne and Harden put in top performances, but Turturro steals the show, particularly with his begging scenes (this is the first of many collaborations with the Coens, and his performances in their films continue to shine).

Despite all the things this movie has going for it, I was not enthralled throughout as I have been with other Coen films, and I would have to say that it's far from my favourite of theirs. A good movie nonetheless, and certainly a must-see for any Coen fan. Go in expecting a noodle scratcher, and with your brain firmly switched into the on position, and you'll come out a little better than you went in.

pearly gives this movie 7 out of 10.
Review created on Fri 5 Dec 2003

Movie review statistics

Number of reviews: 2
Average rating: 8.00
Lowest rating: 7 (by pearly)
Highest rating: 9 (by mino)
 
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