This is a different kind of gangster flick. It is an intelligent foray into the world of the roaring twenties and the corruption and speakeasies engendered by Prohibition. This money making turf is zealously guarded by rival crime bosses: Leo, masterfully played by Albert Finney, and Johnny Caspar, well played by Jon Polito.
Tom Reagan, beautiful played by the darkly smoldering Gabriel Byrne, is Leo's main man. Unfortunately for him, he is feeling the noose around his neck tighten, as he owes some big gambling debts that he is unable to pay. Moreover, he is head over heels in love with Verna, played with hard edged, sexual intensity by Marcia Gay Harden, who just happens to be Leo's main squeeze. Moreover, Verna's bookmaker brother, Bernie Bernbaum, played with smarmy abandon by John Turturro, has a contract on his life and is on the run. When Tom finds himself helping Bernie, he soon discovers that no good deed goes unpunished. All this makes life very complicated and difficult for Tom.
At times, it is difficult to ascertain who the good guys and the bad guys really are, or for whom they really work, as they all seem to march to the beat of a different drummer. There is more to what is going on than initially meets the eye. Make no mistake, this is a multi-faceted movie that works well on many levels. As with all Coen brothers' films, there is an underlay of sly humor that permeates the film.
The dialogue is sharp and evocative of another time, as it is laden with Prohibition era slang, and its stacatto delivery is most effective. The characters all walk the walk and talk the talk. The performances by the entire case are stellar. Look for Steve Buscemi in the small role of Mink, and do not blink or you will miss Frances McDormand's performance as Johnny Caspar's secretary. All in all, this is an excellent film and another feather in the collective cap of the Coen brothers.
Some totally bizarre reviews of this, the Coen brothers masterpiece, citing too slow, unlikeable characters, no resolution in the ending - really quite mind-boggling!
The Coen brothers have been one of the most unique, creative forces in mainstream cinema for the past 20 years, producing a whole gamut of cinema styles styles and genres. But despite the undoubted quality of films such as Fargo, Blood Simple, No Country For Old Men, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy and A Serious Man, this is for me their crowning achievement.
Essentially a black comedy, but with clear tips of the hat to film noir/gangster pictures, but done in the way only the Coen Brothers could. The film contains some of the outstanding performances in all Coen films. Clearly, both Gabriel Byrne and Albert Finney have never been better, playing the chief henchman and gang boss, respectively. But it is in the other casting that this film excels. Jon Polito gives a brilliant performance as one of the most menacing headcases ever to hit the screen ('put it in the brain') and his underling J.E.Freeman (as Eddie Dane) is no less threatening. But the film also contains two of the great 'nerd' (and I do mean that as a compliment) performances from two of the best 'character actors' of the past 20 years, in John Turturro as Bernie Bernbaum and Steve Buscemi as Mink. What has happened to Turturro's acting career? After this film, Barton Fink and Do The Right Thing, he really does seem to have disappeared almost completely (sad).
And finally, the film contains one of the all-time great set-pieces (among the many to be found here) in the sequence where two henchmen are gradually making their way into Finney's house armed with machine guns, about to waste him. The ensuing violent shoot-out (to the tune of Danny Boy) is pure cinematic magic (a la Peckinpah).
One of the all-time greats.
on 1 April 2007
The boss of the dominant Irish gangsters stirs up a hornets' nest of trouble with the subordinate Italian gangsters over the Jewish brother of his girlfriend. His second in command has the burden of trying to calm things down and sort out the mess. He sees that the balance of power is likely to tip in favour of the Italians if the rumpus is allowed to escalate, but not before chaos reigns and a lot of profit is lost and people killed - and all for no good reason: just to win the favour of this woman who's only buttering up the boss to buy his protection for her worthless brother. To complicate matters, Tom (the second in command) is also secretly involved with the woman and he suspects she's only obliging him with her attentions, again, to help out her selfish, ungrateful brother. Also, Tom has a gambling problem that leads all the sleaze-merchants around him to believe they can buy his loyalty by paying off his debts. On top of all that, Tom seems to be afflicted with ethics - the biggest complication of all for a man who makes his living as a mobster. He doesn't appear to be cut out for the life at all. Apart from his ability to take a beating on an almost daily basis and survive relatively unscathed, he just doesn't seem to have what it takes to be a bad guy: the 'killer instinct'.
It's all a bit more complicated than that, but easy enough to follow and interesting enough to make it worthwhile. There are a few clever touches that impressed me in addition to the very sound basics of a good story and fine acting: The film manages to be dark and violent but with a smart, subtle script and great comic timing. It's a visual feast from beginning to end. It starts off in a still and tranquil forest - a situation that couldn't be further from the notion of mob violence. I wonder if Peter Jackson might not have got his idea from this film, of starting his Lord of the Rings trilogy (made over ten years later) in just such a lovely setting, to emphasise the contrast with the battles and terror to come later. Perhaps the similarity was just coincidence and it's simply the case that great minds think alike. Either way, the contrast of violence and beauty is very effective and the way the humour is threaded through the story like a string of pearls, makes the whole film sparkle.
on 31 August 2011
Fabulous transfer from Fox. The cover only mentions English, but the disc features gobs of languages.
Region A, B, C.
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p - AR: 1.84:1
Languages/audio: DTS-HD 5.1 (English); DTS 5.1 (Italian, French, German, Japanese, Russian, Spanish); DD 5.1 (Portuguese, Spanish); DD 4.0 (English); DD 2.0 (Thai, Turkish).
Subs: English (HoH), Italian, Japanese, French, German, Spanish, Portoguese, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Norwegian, Russian, Swedish, Greek, Chinese, Hebrew, Korean, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian.
# Barry Sonnenfeld featurette (17').
# interview with John Turturro, Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden (9').
on 8 January 2004
Made with more wit, character and style than a summers worth of holywood blockbusters, the Coen brotehrs cast their magic on the gangster movie.
The main events follow the path of an Irish-American gangsters (Albert Finney) 2nd in command (Gabriel Byrne) as he 'plays the angles' in a complex tale of love, loyalty and betrayal.
The much celebrated set piece with Albert Finney defending himself against a hit while listen to "Danny Boy" and dressed in a smoking jacket and slippers is entirely worth the praise.
The cast is excllent with Gabriel Byrne portaying the seemingly cold and calculating Tom very convincingly without alienating the viewer and ultimately still able to express his feelings of pain and loss without getting all mushy or stepping out of character.
The supporting cast is mostly excellent and never short of ok.
Coen brothers regular John Turturo is well cast as the sleazy, self serving bookie )ernie) who is the cause of everyones troubles and Steve Buscemi (Mink) has barely more than a cameo as another 'funny looking' guy.
The rival italian gang fronted by Jon Polito as Johnny Caspar and his 2nd in command 'the Dane' are both comedic and threatening. The fact that the Dane is almost certainly gay (though in no way camp) adds to the sense of real character while still maintaining the near surrealism of the Coens best work.
The weakest casting is of the gangsters mol, Verna (Marcia Harden) who probably isn't quite attractive or dangerous enough
,but maybe that's the point.
Complex, quirky and compelling.
Watch it and be spellbound..
The DVD is largely devoid of extras, but frankly when a film is this good, who cares ?
on 27 March 2003
The Coen brothers don't know how to make bad films, but miller's crossing is arguably their best. It came out at the same time as a whole host of other gangster movies such as goodfellas and godfather 3, and because it didn't have the same kind of backing or names involved with those films it was criminally disregarded upon first release. Hopefully this dvd will rectify that.
As usual for the coens, everthing about this film is exceptional. A superb script is complimented by a bravura visual style and great performances from the lead actors (especially john tuttoro and marcia gay harden), i'd try to explain the story, but it's delightfully complicated, and the film does it better than i ever could, sucking in the viewer from the first frame through to well after the film has finished. Sufficed to say this is a gangster film, and if you like the genre, you will love this.
But don't let that fool you into thinking this is only for gangster nuts and coen freaks. Everyone who loves film will enjoy this. If you've seen it before you'll want to see it again (and again and again) and if you haven't then you're missing out until you have. Highly recommended.
The Coen brothers craft a loving homage to gangster pictures of yore with splendid results. Essentially the plot has Gabriel Byrne as a good - bad guy caught between two rival gangster factions. It's a standard story line that is still providing cinematic water for many a film maker these days, but shot through the Coen prism, with literary astuteness holding court, it's a genre piece of considerable class. A picture in fact that gets better and better with further viewings.
When the Coen's are on form they have the skills to make a grade "A" thriller and blend it with a sort of dry irony. It's like they bite the hand that feeds whilst praising said genre influences to the rafters, but it works as damn fine entertainment. On a narrative level Miller's Crossing molds the Byzantine with the labyrinthine, keeping the complexities just on the right side of the street from that of art for arts sake.
Visually the film is superb, the hard working sweat of the city dovetails impudently with the mother nature beauty of Miller's Crossing the place, a place home to misery, a witness to the dark side of man. All the while Byrne, Albert Finney, John Turturro and Jon Polito bring an array of characterisations to the party, each one his own man but each craftily proving the folly of man. Marcia Gay Harden, in one of her first mainstream roles, slinks about making the two main boys sweaty, and wonderful she is as well. While Carter Burwell provides a musical score that has a smug (in a good way) self awareness about it.
Style over substance? Yes, on formative viewings it is. But go back, look again, see and sample what is not being said. Pulpers and noirers will I'm sure get the gist. 8/10
on 29 January 2014
Seeing this again for the first time in 20+ years, I was delighted to find my original responses confirmed and to see again some of the images I remember from all that time ago (I didn't remember the plot so well!). Generically it's impossible really to place -- like most of the Coens' work, and all the more engaging and surprising for that. In one of the "extras" with this DVD, Turturro comments that he thinks it's about a man who loses his soul -- Tom Reagan, played by Gabriel Byrne. I don't see it that way -- rather I see him as a man intellectually and emotionally mature who gets worn down by people who are less smart and more emotionally immature than he is. He is in a sense let down in places where he looks for trust, and his motives become self-protective only after the man who owes him his life, Bernie the bookie (Turturro), refuses to "disappear" and comes back to shake him down and, of course, put his life at risk. Then the intelligence kicks in, and the adjective "Machiavellian" (that one reviewer uses) becomes apt. Up to that point, he has been a voice of reason and a seeker after loyalty and affection, and willing to GIVE loyalty and affection in turn. There's too much humor in the movie for Tom to be seen as a tragic figure, but at the end he's isolated and disappointed, and the fact that his life is no longer in danger seems hardly to compensate for that. He's not perfect, even early in the movie -- he drinks too much and gambles recklessly -- and he's on the receiving end of many beatings for his sins, but by the end we feel that he is still a person of substance in a movie where most characters are driven by impulse and appetite.
Even in 1990, the Coen brothers were showing an ability to flawlessly suggest a particular time and place -- the 1920's of Irish and Italian gangs in warfare in cities. Costumes and settings are lovingly attended to, and the movie, at every point, looks great, with the outdoor non-urban scenes at Miller's Crossing memorably staged and shot. The cast is stellar: Albert Finney is the Irish boss to whom Tom is as loyal as he can be until he is rejected, mainly because of his honesty (no spoiler here). Jon Polito has a great comic turn as an Italian boss who want to take over Finney's turf, which includes having the mayor and police chief in his pocket. By the time Tom hooks up with him, he (Tom) is pretty much in self-protective mode. Marcia Gay Harden is Bernie's sister, desired by both Tom and Leo, Finney's character. The performances are uniformly superb, and the visual rhythms of the film are simply stunning. Add to that a soundtrack with an Irish feel -- a correlative of the kind of sentiment the movie deals in -- and it adds up to a great experience. The staging and choreography of the violent scenes are carefully done, and the audience's reactions to them are carefully gauged, insofar as these things can be managed. It's said and implied by some characters in the movie that Tom has no heart -- but he does, and so does the movie.
The Gangster film has been a mainstay of the cinema from the early classics such as `Little Caesar' and `The Roaring Twenties', through their evolution into stylish period pieces such as `Once Upon A Time In America' and `Untouchables'. The solid gold classics of the genre generally have three things in common - an unflinching look at the seamy side of life showing the evils and crimes of these anti-heroes, usually well developed and engrossing character studies, and inspired casting choices with some of the best actors of the age.
The Coen Brothers have distilled all the best elements of these films into this almost perfect homage. With a classic cast headed by a taciturn Gabriel Byrne, this is a well scripted and well produced film that gives us character study, intricate plot and thrills as we follow it to the rather surprising conclusion. It is stylish, full of 1920s period detail and hardboiled, quickfire dialogue that wouldn't sound out of place in a Bogart or Cagney movie. The cast is excellent, Byrne is perfect as the mobster seemingly being bounced around on the winds of fate and not in control of his own destiny as he gets into trouble with money lenders, rival mobs and his own boss. Albert Finney is a revelation in the role of the mob boss, exuding menace and charm in equal quantities. Coen regular John Turturro is memorable as the slimy Bernie, Steve Buscemi has a pivotal cameo as Mink... I could g on and on. The only casting weak point is Marcia Gay Harden as the femme fatale. She just does not quite have the smouldering intensity or the right note of sass to carry the role off. The plot is quite involved, revolving around the notion of ethics in the mob world, and the rules to which the mob game should be played or the essential trust among thieves will break down. It takes the time to intelligently study the motivations and characters of the protagonists, but is still well paced with action set pieces so the film never drags.
An intelligent, stylish and utterly compelling film, with a sense of self awareness and a dash of humour. One of the Coen's best, and a classic entry into the genre of gangster film. 5 stars.
on 28 October 2009
Millers Crossing is the Coen brother's take on the classic prohibition era gangster movie and it has many of the hallmarks of their unique style.
The story is simple and quite clichéd really. The Irish American crime boss Leo (Albert Finney) has the authorities in his pocket as he runs his empire smoothly. However there is trouble on the horizon as one of the smaller gang leaders Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito) wants his permission to kill a crooked bookie Bernie Bernbaum (John Turturro). However Finney is in love with Turturro's sister (Marcia Gay Harden) and refuses.
The film is told from the point of view of Finney's trusted lieutenant, Tom Reagan, played by Gabriel Byrne. He advises Finney not to let personal feelings impact on business decisions, but to no avail and things spiral out of control.
The film is full of the double crossing and violence you would expect from an old-fashioned gangster movie. However the distinctive Coen style is what sets it apart. They pay homage to the great gangster movies of the past rather than telling a gangster story per se. There are some great set piece scenes, almost cartoonish violence and razor sharp dialogue. The costumes and sets are perfect in helping to bring us back to the golden age of gangster movies.
The Coens seem more interested in style at the expense of character development so the cast don't have to display their undoubted talents. However Turturro is worthy of special mention for his turn as the sleazy bookie. I thought Byrne's Tom Regan comes across as a wisecracking know-it-all and I found it hard to have much sympathy with him. I found the other characters more appealing, for all their faults.
I hadn't seen this film in a while and was expecting it to be better but it is still one of the landmark movies in the careers of these geniuses of modern cinema.