Miller’s Crossing (1990) – Movie Review

Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Writer: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, John Turturro
Runtime: 115 min
Rating: R

Vastly celebrated for its complicated story and innovative take on elements of film noir, Miller’s Crossing is the Coen brothers’ third feature, and one of their most outstanding. The film is one of the Coens’ features that retain a serious tone throughout, and it provides an entertaining yet incredibly well crafted story of violence and deceit.

Tough guy Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne) has found his place working as the right hand of Irish mobster Leo O’Bannon (Albert Finney), whom he counsels about the right ways of handling things. Known all around for his hard character and silent ways, Tom finds himself in a tight spot when trying to make his boss see that the woman he loves, Verna (Marcia Gay Harden), is using him only for the ensured protection of her own brother Bernie (John Tuturro). Bernie is in trouble with a rival gang, and when Leo discovers the relationship between Verna and Tom, he banishes Tom from his circle. Driven by fierce loyalty to Leo, and the necessity to survive, Tom must find a way to infiltrate a rival mob in the hope of discovering a way to set things right with Leo and buy himself some piece of mind.

Miller's Crossing

Tom could be considered the hero of the film, but he is certainly not the most pleasant character. Hyper-masculine and rugged, the part is played to perfection by Gabriel Byrne. Like most Coen films, Miller’s Crossing is filled with a masculine cast that is successful in its depiction of an unapologetic, violent group of mobsters. Marcia Gay Harden stands out as Verna, not only for her beauty, but for the grit of her character amongst an all-male cast. Like other Coen women, Verna is both beautiful and deadly, and the rest of the characters and actors in the film do not outshine her. It is refreshing to see how, despite Verna being a plot device, she does not become a wallflower, and her interactions are always eye-catching and well delivered. The film boasts a vast cast, and many characters compose the complicated relations in which Tom seems to be immersed. A masterful show of directing proves the Coens’ strict control on these exchanges, and all of the acting is on the same level, providing a congruent and pleasant experience.

Miller's Crossing

Miller’s Crossing is one of those films that demands attention. As with many gangster films, everybody has a hidden agenda and the story is a complicated collection of agreements and double-crossings. This strategy keeps things very interesting, and the Coens create a maze of situations where there are multiple possible outcomes of which the spectator may be thinking. Trying to figure out future twists is difficult, but also provides strong immersion and interest with the film that makes the viewing experience interesting and enjoyable. Regardless of its smart scenarios, however, the film does drag on. Although length is important for the double-crossing dynamic Tom finds himself in, there are times where it feels as if matters should just be settled and done with. This stagnation creates a type of disconnect with the story, and causes the action to lose its momentum. The story is undeniably well crafted, but the duration can seem like a bit of a drag. The viewer, however, must decide whether the length is a blessing or a curse. Either way, the film has high rewards for a fan of film, and is worth watching regardless of its flaws.