Tuesday, 11 April 2017
Movie Review: Miller's Crossing (1990)
Mobster Leo O'Bannon (Albert Finney) rules an unnamed city during the Prohibition. He refuses the request of fellow gang boss Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito) to kill bookie Bernie Bernbaum (John Turturro). Caspar believes that Bernie is an unethical cheat when it comes to fixed boxing bouts, but Leo is in love with Bernie's sister Verna (Marcia Gay Harden) and wants to maintain the peace. Leo's second in command Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne) is unsuccessful arguing that liquidating Bernie is a cheap price to pay in order to avoid a conflict with Caspar.
What Leo does not know is that Tom, who is saddled with gambling debts, is also carrying on a steamy affair with Verna. Leo does suspect Verna enough to have her followed, but things start to get complicated when the tail shows up dead in an alley. Meanwhile Caspar is fed up with taking orders from Leo and a full-fledged violent turf war erupts between the two. Tom and Leo have a public falling out, and with Caspar appearing to gain the upper hand in the fight to control the underworld, Tom joins Caspar's inner circle.
Inspired by the novels of Dashiell Hammett, the canon of gangster films and sharing some man-in-the-middle story principles with the likes of A Fistful Of Dollars, the Coens create a matter-of-fact world where the mobsters own the law and the politicians, and the prize at the heart of the struggle for power is nothing less than economic control of an entire city. The film does not question the reasons behind this reality; with a combination of jarring violence and sharp wit, Miller's Crossing proceeds to reveal the cunning, conspiracies and collusion required for survival and success in the world of mob rule.
Leo and Caspar will settle their conflict with bullets rather than votes; Tom just has to find a way to navigate and manipulate the dirty war without losing his head, no easy task when he is sleeping with the boss's girl. A black fedora becomes a symbol for loss and death, while a cold blooded crime in the titular forest clearing provides a neat twist and a reminder for Tom that there is a price for everything, but sometimes others pay to play. Verna is a classic woman desired by many but truly attainable by probably none, and her magnetism tugs at the raging egos to make every dangerous situation worse.
Gabriel Byrne carries the role with requisite intensity, an intelligent man working overtime to design outcomes in a shifting landscape. Albert Finney, Jon Polito and John Turturro humanize a trio of enduring gangsters circling each other looking for the duplicitous kill. Marcia Gay Harden pouts her way through the role of Verna, fully understanding her influence but not feeling any better for it. A woman in a man's world gone mad has every reason to want to land on the winning side of a merciless conflict.
All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.