Thursday, July 3, 2014

Miller's Crossing review

Mobster pictures are somewhat of a staple of American pop culture and have been for a while now. Everything from the original Scarface to The Godfather to The Sopranos. Directors like Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma have forged half of their careers off of gangster flicks. Something about the fast and violent lifestyle of the mafia has captured our imagination. Some of the greatest films ever made are gangster movies. And there are so many of them! You'd think after all this time one would grow tired of the genre. If you would think that, you'd be wrong. Truth be told, I really love mob films. Some of my all-time favorite movies (Goodfellas, The Godfather, The Departed, Casino, Scarface) are about the gang life. Done right, a mafia picture can be not only entertaining but have something profound to say about greed and morality and such. If done right, a mafia picture can look something like Miller's Crossing. Joel and Ethan Coen's 1990 film Miller's Crossing is about Tom Regan (Gabriel Byrne), an adviser to an Irish crime boss (Albert Finney). Tom is whip smart and incredibly cynical, almost an embodiment of The Coen Brothers themselves. The film follows Tom as he navigates the tricky crime landscape of the Irish and Italian mafia by playing both sides against each other. The film's narrative is very plotty and under less talented hands it could turn into a convoluted mess. With The Coen Brothers, they manage to craft one of the most entertaining and gloriously well-made gangster movies I've seen in a long time. Practically everything about this film is impeccable. My only real complaint is that the second half of the film didn't resonate with me as much as the first half. It drops off a bit, but other than that it's absolute gold. Probably my favorite thing about Miller's Crossing is the dialogue. Why this film didn't get a best screenplay nomination at the Oscars I do not know. It certainly deserves one. Every line is as sharp as a surgeon's scalpel. Every conversation goes at a machine gun rate. It's high quality stuff. A screenplay would be almost useless without decent actors to deliver the great lines. Gabriel Byrne is pretty solid here as the main character. He carries out his character's cynicism and wit pretty well, but I feel it could have been done a bit better. Albert Finney is superb as the head mob boss, Leo. Finney really underplays his character. It's a subtle performance, but it absolutely works in every way. The guy who really shines here is John Turturro. I've always known Turturro to be a good actor form seeing him in films like Do The Right Thing and The Big Lebowski (which is my personal favorite Coen Bros. flick). He's phenomenal here. The guy has a relatively small role, but boy does he play it well. Turturro's character is a real slick guy. He's a schemer and kind of an (if you'll excuse my language) asshole. But you can't help but like him. You want him dead yet, at the same time you kind of want to watch him a little bit more. Some actors could make the role insufferably annoying or even dull, depending. Turturro makes him funny and interesting. That takes talent. But this is The Coen's film, and they don't let you forget it. Miller's Crossing is stuffed with classic Coen trademarks. Dark humor, irony, noir lighting, femme fatale characters, swift direction. It has all the marks of a Coen Brothers movie, but it's 100% fresh and original. They don't just do what they've done before. They take an age old genre and morph it into something completely new. Something wonderful. A classic. I think it's safe to say I'm in love with Miller's Crossing. No, it's not The Coen Brothers' best film. No, it's not the best mobster film ever made. Yes, it is a really great film. I'm a pretty big fan of the Coen's, and they've yet to prove they're anything but genius. Miller's Crossing is a genius movie. Well directed, smartly written, and terrifically acted I can definitely recommend you watch it. Hell, watch it twice. I know I will. Happy Viewing folks.
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