November 10, 2013

Miller's Crossing

Joel & Ethan Coen, 1990

Tom Regan (Gabriel Byrne) is a right-hand man to a crime boss. When tension mounts between his boss Leo and rival boss Johnny Caspar, he finds himself in the middle and his loyalty comes into question.

The Coen Brothers jump into the 1930's mob world in this Prohibition-era Period Piece. With elaborate set design and heavy dialogue the film is ultimately more refined than Goodfellas but had the unfortunate timing of being released the same week in 1990. History seems to have been more kind to Scorcese's piece, or at least pushed Miller's Crossing into more of a cult status (not a bad thing). And there's no Eric Clapton playing in this picture. A classical score echoes throughout the film. Lots of wood paneling graces the scene reflecting dim light by fancy green lampshades. Backroom booze consumption and gambling. Double crossing. Political relationships. Long standing Irish and Italian feuds. Egos getting in the way of business. Sudden subtle humor puts the Coen Brothers mark on it (Caspar's blowups, Caspar's fat kid, Drops Johnson's screaming). But in the end they also don't hold back on the firepower. When the Tommy guns let loose they light up the screen like fireworks, and you're left with bullet-riddled storefronts and engulfed Ford Model A's.

The primary focus of the film is on Byrne's character Tom Regan. Regan is restrained, aimless. At times he feels almost nihilistic. He talks less and listens more. He doesn't really watch his back, and never feels he needs to. He is a cool head in a crowd of hot ones. He gets himself into a lot of situations that leave you on the edge of your seat wondering how he's going to get out of them. It's guilty of dragging a bit at times, like some of their work tends to do. But in the end, it's a film that's artfully done with polished characters that make an impact.

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