Miller’s Crossing Review

As the worried man is guided through the forest, there is a striking conviction in the emotion Joel Coen displays that makes not just for remarkable viewing, but an uncomfortably real and vivid experience. It is a moment that has stuck with me, not for any artistic or technical reason, but one of overwhelming emotion. Captured within is the fear of death and the identification of life led poorly. Antagonist or protagonist, the characters found within Miller’s Crossing live life as though they were already dead. Doomed and disgraced, they shuffle themselves from location to location, violence in their hands and anger in their hearts. Coen captures that magnificently, and it forms one of the many great angles taken by this prohibition-era crime thriller blend.

While the 1990s proved serviceable to leading man Gabriel Byrne, it is perhaps his leading turn as Tom Reagan that will cement him as one of the greats of this decade. He sets the standard high for himself, and we would soon find he was more than capable of hitting that time and time again. Dead Man and The Usual Suspects would soon follow, and both are equally compelling in their own right. Neither would offer Byrne the range he displays in Miller’s Crossing. Not even Cool World could do that. He has exceptional chemistry with Albert Finney, the crime boss also after the heart of Verna Bernbaum (Marcia Gay Harden).

That love triangle between Verna, Tom and Liam (Finney) feels more of a smokescreen than anything of poignancy. It guides the story and actions of Tom and Liam, but they carry out their roles as though it were business as usual. What a messy affair they find themselves in. It soon becomes clear that the only clarity is not in the reasons of why there are so many crossed wires, but how these characters are surviving alongside their immoral decisions. They cheat and kill their way through life, and Coen allows this to form the undoing of his characters. No drastic change to be found, just bad people performing hurtful actions to one another without ever considering that what they could be doing is, actually, their undoing.

There is no room for desultory within Miller’s Crossing. It is a feature that wishes the worst for its characters, and doing so provides a vivid and provocative scope of emotions. Equal parts in love with itself and its love triangle as it is ashamed of its actions in the days of prohibition. Finding their frequent collaborators in the form of John Turturro and Steve Buscemi, Miller’s Crossing paves the way for the Coen Brothers’ future success. Not just by pairing them with actors they can gel well with, but by showcasing their style on a grander, brighter scale to that of Blood Simple. Both are seedy and degenerative in their own rights, but Miller’s Crossing feels sleeker, refined and a strong attempt at paying homage to the gangster films of decades gone by.

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