Miller’s Crossing

Movie Information

Miller's Crossing will be shown at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 23, in Lord Auditorium at Pack Memorial Library as part of the library's Coen Brothers film series. Xpress movie critic Ken Hanke will introduce the film and discuss it after the screening. Subsequent screenings will be The Big Lebowski (1998) on Aug. 30 and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) on Sept. 6. All shows are free.
Genre: Crime Drama
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, Marcia Gay Harden, John Turturro, Jon Polito
Rated: R

The plot may be an almost plagiaristic mix of novelist Dashiell Hammett’s Glass Key and Red Harvest, but the cinematic and thematic originality of the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing (1990) is never in question. This gorgeous film—it may still be their most beautifully photographed work—marks the full flowering of the filmmaking brothers as important artists in film. There’s not a false move, a bad angle, an awkward line or a wanting performance at any point in their fascinating tale of gang warfare, family loyalty, personal loyalty and homoerotic bonding set in some peculiarly insular, corrupt, never-identified small town in 1920s America.

A few eyebrows probably went skyward when I used the term “homoerotic bonding” to describe the film, but really that’s at the core of the movie. This is less about the romance between Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne) and Verna Bernbaum (Marcia Gay Harden), or the romance between Verna and Leo O’Bannon (Albert Finney)—except in the fact that Tom and Leo connect through the same woman—than it is about the romance between Tom and Leo. Oh, there’s nothing to indicate even briefly that this is acted on (though there are several bits of suggestive dialogue, and Leo likens dealing with Tom to “handling” a woman), but their relationship is at the core of the film. (Interestingly enough, however, homosexuality is an accepted fact of life in the world of the film—seemingly more accepted than being Jewish, in fact.) At the same time, the film never forgets that it’s also a sardonic neo-noir gangster story with a wicked sense of humor and unfettered violence. Few emotionally deep films are this purely entertaining, and few entertaining films are this deep. It’s an extraordinary work on every level.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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3 thoughts on “Miller’s Crossing

  1. Ken Hanke

    A good bit of the jargon is actually authentic to the period. But I can think of no other single film that has quite so much of it.

  2. Adam Renkovish

    I’ve been a fan of the Coen brothers since high school. I’ve loved pretty much every film of theirs, especially FARGO and BARTON FINK. I’d have to say that my least favorite is THE LADYKILLERS. However, I just saw this for the first time last year, and I’d go so far as to say that this is the best. I loved everything about it. I bought it and made my friend watch it, and now he loves it as well. It’s amazing, from that haunting opening credits sequence to the very end. I watched it at least three times in the same week, and I’m glad that I finally discovered it. Excellent review, by the way! I always enjoy reading them.

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