Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Miller's Crossing ★★★1/2

    The genre of film known as "gangster" has evolved thoroughly over the years. We have come to love these movies unequivocally for their dramatic composition, their morose tones and superb dialogue. "Miller's Crossing" is no exception. This American gangster film was released in 1990 and, although it is overshadowed by a fellow gangster film of the same year, "Goodfellas," there is much to revel in. With direction by Joel and Ethan Cohen, this film will intrigue and entertain until the bitter end.

    "Miller's Crossing" opens in a style quite reminiscent with that of "The Godfather," albeit under different circumstances. We indulge in a conversation of ethics between two Prohibition-era mob bosses; Leo O'Bannon is an established Irish mob boss who currently runs the city, from political campaigns to police crackdowns. Johnny Caspar is a rival Italian boss who is on the up and up. The ill-tempered Caspar spouts his desire to kill a local bookie by the name of Bernie Bernbaum. However, O'Bannon quickly disengages the situation and tells Caspar that he will not revoke his protection of Bernie. This act of defiance by O'Bannon infuriates Caspar and persuades him to go to war with the Irish boss.
    The opening scene brilliantly sets the blueprint for the rest of the film; however, there are many integral components that surround this conflict and, therefore, they should be expressed. The protagonist of the film, Tom Reagan, is the longtime adviser of Leo, and his best friend. Tom warns Leo of this brash decision not to give up Bernie. In the code of "ethics," it is the right thing to do. Though, Leo is blinded by the love he shares for Bernie's sister, Verna. This beautiful dame cares for her brother and "steps out" with Leo in exchange for protection of Bernie. Tom knows Verna all too well, and their relationship ultimately turns the tables in favor of Caspar. In the end, it is the genius and manipulation of Tom Reagan that balances these relationships and the dynamic forces they present.

    There are numerous performances in this film that deserve praise and recognition:

    In one of his most prominent roles to date, Gabriel Byrne excels as Tom Reagan. Tom is a genuine and loyal adviser to Leo, and Byrne's Irish background makes him a perfect cast for this role. Byrne reaches into the pit of darkness and delivers a performance here that would inspire any young actor. This is a very delicate character to portray. There is a fine line between reasonable madness and insanity, and Tom Reagan is forced to walk this line. Byrne is unmatched in the control of his emotionally charged dialogue. Albert Finney portrays Leo O'Bannon with exquisite expertise. O'Bannon is an extremely likable mob boss who, when the time calls for it, can display the personality of a pit bull. Finney is excellent with these character traits despite the fact that he is limited in screen-time.

    Jon Polito is the moody Italian mob boss Johnny Caspar. Caspar is quick to change his mood from angry to angrier, and he imposes his will on any weakened prey. Polito is a perfect cast for this simple role of an aggravated, walking cardiac arrest. John Turturro and Marcia Gay Harden round out this wonderful cast. Turturro steps into the role of the strange and conniving Bernie Bernbaum. Bernie's motto is, "you can't have too many friends." He selfishly utilizes them in any manner that seems prosperous. Harden shows little range in the role of Verna and her personality is extremely similar to that of Bernie. She uses and uses until her needs are fulfilled. In this case, her sexual desires and the protection of a sibling.

    "Miller's Crossing" is a tremendous display of subtle direction and superior performances. If you covet a gangster film for viewing, then this movie will not disappoint. Its dark tones and even darker cinematography make it the perfect film for a late night showing. It will enthrall you with a world of greed and deception. There are many aspects of a film that, as a viewer, we need to fulfill our psychological needs. Sometimes, these needs can be found on the darker end of an endless spectrum of light. A film that can deliver on those promises and not leave you in a unwelcoming state of existence is a fine film to behold.

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