Friday, February 15, 2008
Miller's Crossing; crime, USA, 1990; D: Joel Coen, S: Gabriel Byrne, Jon Polito, Marcia Gay Harden, John Turturro, Albert Finney, J.E. Freeman, Mike Starr, Al Mancini, Richard Woods, Steve Buscemi, Frances McDormand
In one American city in the 20s, two rival mafia gangs are clashing with each other: the Irish and the Italian. Tom, a cold blooded cynic, works for the Irish gang, but starts crossing on the other side when he falls in love with Verna and refuses to murder her brother Bernie in the forest. By that, he indirectly rebels against his boss Leo, but in the end still double-crosses and kills the Italian boss Caspar.
"Miller's Crossing" is one of the best crime films of all time and, as ungrateful as it sounds, the Coen brothers would have desreved an Oscar for it much more than for their thriller "Fargo". With these kind of brilliant films everything seems perfect because it is full of ideas, style and almost esoteric crime mood, whereas it is hard to believe how two men created such a strong film about gangsters that it even rivals "The Godfather's" quality at times. There are murders and fights, but the Coens are at times so childish and playful that the viewers are always able to recognize the fun of the story: unusual perspectives and camera angles (the long sequence where Leo hides under his bed and shoots at two assassins who came to eliminate him in his home), weird, but meticulous, delicious details (in the explosion of a store a corpse of a gangster lands on the street), irony (a random kid takes the wig of a murdered gangster and causes his superiors to wonder about such "scalping") and humor in dialoges always give it a comical tone. One of the great moments are the opening scenes, in which an angry Johnny Casper (Jon Polito in the role of a lifetime) is shouting at Leo in his office, since Leo is refusing to kill Bernie, but just as Johnny is about to leave, Leo gives him a fantastic response with weight and wisdom: "Johnny, you're exactly as big as I let you be, and no bigger. Don't forget it, ever." The dialogues between Verna and Tom are also very creative and fun, as well ("Leo's got the right idea. I like him, he's honest and he's got a heart." - "Then it's true what they say. Opposites attract."). These kind of juicy dialogues display a masterful writing from the Coen brothers, who here reach the pinnacle of cinematic art. Quirky, measured and very tasteful. It is obvious the story is artificial, but it still seems close to life in its own stylized way, whereas it also gives a loving hommage to the classic 30s gangster films. Even though the film underrperformed at the US box office, today it's considered a secret recommendation, because it is a masterpiece.