Miller’s Crossing

The Coen brothers’ lush gangster melodrama (1990, 115 min.), set in an unnamed eastern city in 1929. Self-conscious and show-offy, with more portent than soul, the film shows some progress over the Coens’ earlier effortsif only because of the allure and energy of the cast. Yet it never fully convinces in terms of either period or plot. Gabriel Byrne plays an Irish gangster and pal of Irish city boss Albert Finney, and the two of them split over a Jewish moll (Marcia Gay Harden) whose brother (John Turturro) is set to be bumped off; Byrne then goes to work for the Italian kingpin in town (Jon Polito) who has taken over control of the mayor and chief of police from Finney. The novels of Dashiell Hammett were reportedly the main inspiration here, but if much of what’s best about Hammett came from personal acquaintance with his gangster milieu, the Coens’ only acquaintance is with Hammett’s novels. The film’s idea of sophistication is to play Danny Boy while the tommy guns splutter, pile on the gore, light the interiors like kitsch Rembrandts, and punctuate the action with significant fade-outs; the double crosses are so intricate and the cynicism so enveloping that it becomes increasingly difficult to care about the characters, although the actors (who also include the sinister J.E. Freeman) are all effective on the level of portraiture. But even an actor of Finney’s skill can’t make us believe his self-deceiving character could rule a city. (JR)

This entry was posted in Featured Texts. Bookmark the permalink.