Dusting Off... Miller's Crossing
What is it?
Released in 1990, Miller's Crossing is the third feature film directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Set in an unspecified American city during the prohibition era in the 1930s, the film stars Gabriel Byrne as Tom Reagan, a close friend of - and consigliere to - local mob boss Leo O'Bannon (Albert Finney), an Irish gangster embroiled in a power struggle with a rival gang led by Johnny Casper (Jon Polito).
Things begin to come to a head when Casper tells O'Bannon of his intention to kill the bookmaker Bernie Bernbaum (John Turturo), who he believes has been making money on the side by selling information about rigged boxing matches to punters.
Tom advises Leo to give Bernie up to Casper and end the gang war, but Leo refuses and offers Bernie protection from Casper's gang because he is the brother of his girlfriend Verna (Marcia Gay Harden). In an attempt to persuade Leo that Verna cannot be trusted he reveals that he and Verna are having an affair. Leo flies into a rage, gives Tom a beating and banishes both him and Verna.
Worried that he will find himself on the wrong end of one of Leo's hitmen, Tom goes to Casper looking for work, but Casper is unconvinced and orders Tom to whack Bernie to prove his loyalty. Tom fakes the killing and tells Bernie to hide, but Casper's chief enforcer – a man known as 'The Dane' (J.E. Freeman) - is suspicious and orders Tom to take him into the woods to show him the body. What follows is a game of double-crosses between Tom, Bernie and The Dane that only one of them can survive.
Why should I revisit?
Even though the Coen brothers had gained a fair amount of respect among critics and audiences for their first two features, Blood Simple and Raising Arizona, they were still some way from being the established Hollywood force that they are today and it wasn't until 1996 with the superb Fargo that their commercial success began to match their critical acclaim.
Had Miller's Crossing been released post-Fargo it's likely it would have been a much bigger deal, but it's one of a handful of the Coens' earlier films that never quite reached the audience it deserved on its initial release, along with Barton Fink and the hugely underrated The Hudsucker Proxy.
The film is a kind of homage to the noir and gangster genres, although being a Coen brothers movie there's also a streak of black comedy running throughout the film that offsets the frequent viloence.
Who will enjoy it?
If you've enjoyed later films by the Coens like Fargo or The Big Lebowski but have yet to check out some of their earlier work, Miller's Crossing is a great place to start. Even if you're a fan of black comedies or gangster movies in general, this is a film that's well worth watching.