In a cheeky nod to old gangster movies and films noir, the Brothers Coen once again employ their twisted sense of humor in Miller’s Crossing.
Our hero, Tom Reagan (played by the always awesome Gabriel Byrne) works as right hand man for Leo O’Bannon (played by the incomparable Albert Finney).
It’s the Prohibition Era in the U.S., and O’Bannon is the big dog in town, an unnamed city.
Meanwhile, his rival Giovanni “Johnny Caspar” Gasparo (played with a put-upon air by Jon Polito) wants to kill a bookie (played in twitchy fashion by John Turturro). O’Bannon protects the bookie, whose sister Verna (played with a floozy abandon by Marcia Gay Harden) is his mistress. However, Verna is getting a bit on the side from Reagan, O’Bannon’s trusty lieutenant.
What ensues is a darkly comic mix of gang warfare, blackmail schemes, and double-crosses. The film abounds with sly references to and outright imitation of many gangster films and noir flicks, particularly those based on the works of Dashiell Hammett. Whole scenes and lines are lifted from Hammett’s novel The Glass Key, and the gangster war theme is reminiscent of Red Harvest.
However, the movie’s dark noir roots are leavened with the Coen’s peculiar sense of humor. Tuturro is at his sweaty, pathetic best as the bookie.
Polito’s scowling visage, as he complains about always getting “the high hat”, is quite funny – even as he smacks his dumb ass kid upside the head.
Another notable aspect of the film is the sexual tension between Reagan and Vera. The big man’s moll will truck no nonsense from his subordinate, and the charged feelings between them come out clearly in scenes that range from sexy to violent.
With a story that deftly combines humor and suspense within a tortuously twisting plot, Miller’s Crossing is another winner from Joel and Ethan Coen.
This movie, which TIME film critic Richard Corliss described as “noir with a touch so light, the film seems to float on the breeze like the Frisbee of a fedora sailing through the forest”, is well worth two thumbs up.