Miller's Crossing (1990)

Crime, Drama, Thriller
Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, John Turturro, Marcia Gay Harden
Tom Regan, an advisor to a Prohibition-era crime boss, tries to keep the peace between warring mobs but gets caught in divided loyalties.
Though possibly more notable for its distinctive style than an airtight story, this Coen brothers take on the classic gangster flick features sharp dialogue, impressive cinematography, and a typically quirky cast of characters.
  • 20th Century Fox Company:
  • R Rated:
  • IMDB link IMDB:
  • 05 Oct 1990 Released:
  • 20 May 2003 DVD Release:
  • N/A Box office:
  • Joel Coen, Ethan Coen Writer:
  • Joel Coen Director:
  • N/A Website:

All subtitles:



Trailer:

masterpiece5/10

In my modest opinion, this film is the Coen's greatest achievement to date, even greater than Fargo. I was happy to see so many recent entries on this page, because that means something I predicted long ago is coming true: film buffs are finally "discovering" Miller's Crossing, an underground masterpiece that has dwelt in obscurity for ten years.

The central motif of the hat, and Johnny Caspar's preoccupation with the altitude thereof, brings to mind another underrated masterpiece, Drugstore Cowboy. The complex Jungian symbolism of forests, doors and especially hats is my favorite aspect of the film.

The only criticism I've heard of this film (and I think it's B.S.) has to do with the "over-acting"--a criticism that has been directed at more than one Coen film. Admittedly, Coen screenplays read more like novels than movie scripts and are not always actor-friendly. Gabriel Byrne, who appears in all but two scenes, does a great job playing an extremely complicated character. Tom Reagan is a smart guy surrounded by morons, and exists in a scenario where only muscle counts and brains don't. And he hates it. And he hates himself because he knows he's all brains and no heart. He tries to redeem himself through a selfless devotion to Leo, whom he hates. All this makes for an immensely challenging part, and the film could easily have fallen apart with a lesser actor than Gabriel Byrne playing the lead.

But the acting is great from top to bottom: Marcia Gay Harden (in her big screen debut) as the hard-boiled moll; Jon Polito as the maniacal Johnny Caspar; Steve Buscemi as the hop-addicted Mink; J.E. Freeman, who is such a
marvellous screen villain you have to wonder why he's still toiling in obscurity; and Albert Finney, an actor who embodies the term "screen presence." But the Grand Prix goes to John Turturro, who carries the most powerful scene in the movie: when Tom takes Bernie out to Miller's Crossing to "whack" him.

Another criticism frequently levelled against the Coens is that they are preoccupied with "scenes" and don't focus enough on plot coherence. This too is an invalid criticism, as far as I'm concerned. Some people are irritated by a film that you have to watch a couple times to fully understand, but that's precisely the kind of film that I love, and that's why I love Miller's Crossing so much. Every time I see it I pick up on something that I
didn't catch before.

Speaking of "scenes", the "Danny Boy" scene is the best. The second best is the following scene, where Tom and Terry walk through a hallway lined with goons. The third is the police raid on the Sons of Erin Club, in which Leo takes on the entire police force.

I'll resist the temptation to call Miller's Crossing "The Greatest Film of All Time"--because who has the right to say that? But I must say that it is my favorite film of all time.
The Intellectual's Gangster Film10/10

"I'm talkin' about friendship. I'm talkin' about character. I'm talkin' about--hell Leo, I ain't embarrassed to use the word--ethics." So Jon Polito, as crime-boss Johnny "Caspar," describes to his overlord, Albert Finney as "Leo," his point of view while seeking permission to kill a double-crossing underling (played by John Turturro) in the opening lines of __Miller's Crossing__. Had the script sought only to explore the power relationship between the two chief mobsters (one the rising Italian, the other the diminishing Irishman), this would have been a very good gangster film. It portrays an earlier era in the nation's history of organized crime (perhaps Chicago in the late '20s), and one can imagine Leo as the Irish predecessor of __The Godfather__'s Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando).

Just as __The Godfather__ was really about family relationships and the ethical complexities arising when familial loyalty collides with the business of violence, however, __Miller's Crossing__ is actually about, as Caspar tells us, friendship and character put under the enormous strain of that same business of violence. The film, therefore, centers on Leo's trusted adviser Tom (played flawlessly by the Irish actor Gabriel Byrne). Tom is not a gunsel, but the brain behind Leo's muscle. His decisions carry life and death consequences, however, and we watch him try to live with himself, to preserve his character, as he works out a code that will help him and his friends survive brutally violent upheavals. Critics of the film have cited its graphic cruelty and the seeming coldness of its characters, yet these are essential features in developing the film's theme.

Sentimentality might get any of the major characters killed, and one notes the pathos and dark humor that underline an ironic distance that each character, especially Tom, cultivates as a tool for survival.

Clues abound as we wonder what Tom will do next. Follow, for example, the men's hats over the course of the film. Who "keeps his lid on," so to speak, and who loses his? Note the number of times characters exclaim "Jesus!" or "Damn!" when saying the name "Tom." What has he sacrificed? Has he damned himself?

Spectacular action sequences, beautiful production values, top-notch camera work by Barry Sonnenfeld, a haunting musical score, and the best dialogue ever written by the Coen brothers make this a great gangster film. The fascinating and complex theme of friendship, character, and ethics make it one of the great films from any genre.
what's the rumpus? this movie is one of the greatest10/10
This is for those who have seen the movie and given it the high hat.

"For a sheeny he's got a lot of good qualities." I'm watching the film AGAIN now and this gem just popped up. Any piece of dialog would make my quote book. This ain't no review. It's a response. First, seeing this as a gangster movie is like seeing Blade Runner as a sci-fi flick. Second, seeing this as film noir, with Tom as the typical anti-hero shows that we have to classify every film by the terms we are comfortable with. Finally, Tom is one of the most complex characters I've seen in film. Why? Because he's real. It reminds me a bit of the American Splendor comics and film where Pekar don't have to give a happy ending, a sad ending, clear symbolism, a strong message. Just a story even if it does not "fit" into what we expect from books, films, magazines, etc. Tom is one of my favorite characters and I still don't understand him and neither do you. This along with everything people have commented on (dialog, editing, characters, etc.) make the film in my opinion one of THE greatest films period. What makes Godfather better? Brando's tired speeches? This is a flick you can watch over and over and I stand by those who respect the genius of this film. So take ya flunkie and dangle and again- this paragraph is for those who give the high hat to Tom, the most conflicted and realistic personage in any film I've seen. Will you watch Tom with amazement or try to analyze his motivation based on film stereotypes? Let's get stinko.
The Jewel of the Coen Crown10/10

One of the great undiscovered gems of recent movie history. In my opinion, Miller's crossing is easily the best of the Coen brothers' films, and one of the true classics of American cinema.

On the surface, the story of warring gangsters in 1920's America is one that has been told many times before. But never before has it been handled with such artistry and precision. The (rather violent) action scenes keep the movie going along at a brisk pace, and the camera work is every bit the equal of "Fargo".

I became a lifelong Gabriel Byrne fan as a result of this movie, despite his best efforts to disappoint me since. Byrne's Tom Reagan is a compellingly amoral character, who takes more unchallenged beatings than perhaps anyone in film history. Men beat him up. Women beat him up. Collection men, bookies, gangsters, and even his boss gives him a terrible thrashing, and he hardly lifts a finger in opposition (with one notably humorous exception).

Albert Finney is tremendous as Leo, the local crime boss. His "Danny Boy" scene should go down in film history as one of the greatest pieces ever filmed. Jon Polito is at once absurdly funny and threateningly psychotic as Johnny Caspar, Leo's rival in the turf war. J.E. Freeman, John Turturro, and Marcia Gay Harden all lend strong support in a cast that was assembled and performs to near perfection.

I will never understand why this film has not received more recognition and acclaim. As an example of the modern style of Film Noir, it has no equals ("The Usual Suspects" would rate a close second). Among gangster films, only "The Godfather" can compete, and "Miller's Crossing" features superior pacing and dialog, although it lacks "The Godfather's" epic proportions. Perhaps someday this film will receive, like "The Manchurian Candidate" and "Touch of Evil", the belated accolades it so richly deserves.
this movie is splendid, magnificent, unique: don't miss it10/10

In my opinion, "Miller's crossing" is by far the top work of the Coen brothers, and one of the best movies in the history of cinema. The huge Coens' talent being now fully recognized, I hope that this masterpiece will get the credit it deserves.

The plot deals with the war between Irish and Italian gangsters, caused by the Jewish crook Bernie (the Coens like to joke with the rivalry of different ethnic groups). The crook's affectionate sister Verna is the mistress of Leo O' Bannion, the boss of the Irish gang, who consequently opposes to have him killed by the Italians. But Tom Reagan, the old mate and factotum of O' Bannion, has different plans... The story is extremely interesting, exciting, entertaining. There are no flaws in the development of the plot, despite its complications (a homage to the intricate classic film-noirs of the Golden Age). The script is sharp, cynical, sarcastic, full of memorable lines and of black sense of humor, with many delightful subtleties: the celebrated Coens' wit at its best. The photography is magnificent and very original. The music is great. The action scenes are superbly filmed: violence explodes suddenly and unexpectedly. The finale is perfect and splendidly crowns the movie.

Tom Reagan, played by Gabriel Byrne, is one of the most memorable characters I have seen on the screen. A gangster who tries to use intelligence instead of violence (with alternate success), following a peculiar moral code. Cynical but devoted to friendship. A systematic liar, but capable of generosity. Despite his skills, he is not ambitious, he prefer to be subject to a big-shot. And then, with all his smartness, he strangely chooses to destroy himself with alcohol and gambling. A magnificent psychological design. With this sober, brilliant, subtle performance, worth of a Bogart in great shape, Byrne just shows that he is the best actor in the world (my opinion, of course).

The aged Irish boss O' Bannion - Albert Finney is the opposite of Reagan: naive, sometimes dumb, with a strong love and childish attachment for his girl-friend, he is confident only in his own charisma and in brutal force. Speaking of brutal force, he will show in a gun-fight that he's still the number one, in spite of years passing (incidentally: this is one of the best action scenes I've ever seen).

Also the other characters are shaped with outstanding intelligence and care, from the main ones (Bernie, his sister, the Italian boss, his right-hand Dane) to the last of the thugs. The whole cast is fantastic: Finney, Turturro, Marcia Gay Hayden, Polito, Freeman and all the other excellent supporting actors. A special mention for the scaring gangster Eddie Dane - J.E. Freeman: he really makes you shriver. Turturro is a bit histrionic for my taste, but this is his style of acting, suited for the role of the crook, mean and coward, but cunning and dangerous as a snake.

To summarize, in "Miller's Crossing" fun, drama, action, suspense, mystery are masterly blended with deeper themes such as love, friendship and human loneliness. This movie is splendid, magnificent, unique, don't miss it.