Miller’s Crossing: a movie review

Miller’s Crossing, by the Coen Brothers.

It’s Chicago during Prohibition, and Tom is causing trouble. Again.

The leaders of two rival gangs, Leo O’Bannon and Johnny Caspar (Albert Finney and Jon Polito), clash over a small business matter: should a small-time bookie (John Turturro) be killed or protected? This seemingly simple proposition gets indescribably complicated, as the ties between the characters get unearthed.

The whole story revolves around the efforts of Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne), O’Bannon’s right-hand man, to ease tensions the only way he knows how: persuading Leo to let him kill that guy, already. But nothing is ever that simple, not in noir and not in a Coen Brothers’ film.

The twisty-turning plot feels a little bit like two noirs woven together… and I intend that as a compliment. As always with Coen Brothers’ period pieces, the background is spectacular, in that unspectacular noir-y way: richly designed and fully believable houses, offices, flophouses, and cars; period costumes that look lived-in instead of costume-y; the snappy patter that flows off everyone’s tongue; and always — in the office, in the hallway, in the alley — the shadows, looming.

But there’s more here than you’ll find in the average noir: a depth, a sorrow, a richness of metaphor that makes Miller’s Crossing a stand-out, even in the Coens’ oeuvre.

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