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USA 1990
Directed by
Joel Coen
115 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Miller's Crossing

Supposedly playing Prohibition mobsters and their moll, Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney and Marcia Gay Harden, despite mouthing the Coen brothers’ rapid-fire Dashiell Hammett-style tough talk, would be more suited to running a literary society than running booze, numbers and grifting. But that is entirely symptomatic of Miller's Crossing which rather than being a gangster movie à la Once Upon A Time In America (1984) is an exercise in gangster movie style, deftly enlisting characters from the back-catalogue of  tough guys and villains who inhabit gangster movies of the 1930s and ‘40s and looking splendid while so doing. Its cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld put it neatly when he described it as "a handsome movie about men in hats".  

Gabriel Byrne, who spends a good deal of time getting badly beaten up but never seems worse for wear, plays Tom Regan, devoted right-hand man to Irish mob moss Leo (Albert Finney). He wants Leo to give up a small-time grifter Bernie Bernbaum (John Turturro) to a rival Italian mobster Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito) but Leo refuses because he’s soft on Bernie’s sister Verna (Marcia Gay Harden). Trouble is so is Tom, even though he doesn’t want to admit it.

Although there are a couple of well-staged set-pieces involving blazing tommy-guns, by and large most of the action takes place dialogically as Tom weaves his way through a plot whose numerous characters are untrustworthy and more or less involved in some kind of shady activity. Given the quality of the script this is far from a bad thing particularly as the Coens have fun with it, especially with Jon Polito’s Caspar, a rotund little thug with an explosive temper and a preoccupation with “ethics”. John Turturro who would play the lead in the Coens' next film, Barton Fink (1991) also gives a memorable performance particularly in one stand-out scene at a deserted place in the woods that gives the film its name.

Although missing the dramatic conviction that distinguishes the best from the rest in the gangster genre Miller's Crossing nevertheless provides plenty to enjoy. 




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