Director Spotlight: Miller’s Crossing
Miller’s Crossing is the third film directed by the Coens, and tells the story of warring gangsters in 1920′s America, with Gabriel Byrne’s Tom Reagan as the main protagonist of the piece, right hand man of Leo (Albert Finney), an irish gangster who runs the unnamed town in which the film is set. Tom is caught in the middle of a brewing gang war between Leo and Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito), who wants Leo to hand over Bernie Bernbaum (Jon Turturro), a two-bit swindler cutting in on his gambling action. Leo is protecting Bernbaum, who is the brother of Verna (Marcia Gay Harden), who he is in love with, and he has promised her that he would look out for Bernie. Seeing the danger of protecting Bernbaum, Tom tries to convince his boss to give up Bernie before an all-out bloodbath breaks out.
This is a very well made film, with everything from the costuming right down to the smallest piece of set design perfectly crafted to pull you into its 1920′s setting, which at times feels very much like an homage to the gangster film in places rather than an out-and-out member of the genre. There is a slight tongue in cheek feeling, as with most of the Coens’ films, as quirky characters and scenes are presented alongside the rather serious situation that develops, which helped to keep my attention on the often very confusing plot.
Pinning the whole tangled story together is Gabriel Byrne’s Tom, a well written and acted protagonist, and an imperfect one at that. Tom may be a man of principles, he is as loyal and as moral as his situation allows, but he’s also a drunk and a gambler. He begins as a very unsympathetic character, but during the film you start to make sense of the reasons behind his actions, as Byrne’s acting prowess allows the character to mature and develop as the situation spirals out of control and an all out gang war is declared.
Though Byrne shines in the film, that is not to say that the other actors come across as slouches. I can easily say that I have watched very few films in which I felt every member of the cast, from the primary leads to the second stringers, were firing on all cylinders. This is definitely one of them. Each character is brilliantly acted, the often confusing dialogue handled with such ease. All the while, the onscreen action is perfectly complimented by the Coen’s trademark style, which allows the actors’ performance to be presented for the viewer on a multitude of levels, further heightening the almost surreal setting as it does so. The scene in which a group of hitmen try to take out Leo is a perfect example, using a mixture of camera views and static and tracking shots as the gangster dispatches his would be killers with a tommy gun to a relaxing vocal rendition of “Danny Boy”.
Upon first watching Miller’s Crossing, I did not feel that I was going to enjoy the film, and actually wondered what I’d signed up for picking the film to review. The heavily stylised dialogue and tone felt odd to me, almost difficult to watch, and it took several viewings before I was able to actually immerse myself in the Coens’ version of 1920′s America. Once I was able to do so though, I was able to really appreciate the film and would definitely recommend it to any fan of the Coens’ current work who may have missed this gem, aswell as fans of 1920s gangster films in general.
Posted on April 1, 2011, in Director Spotlight and tagged Albert Finney, coen brothers, Director Spotlight, Gabriel Byrne, gangster film, john turturro, Jon Polito, marcia gay harden. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a Comment.