18 March 2001 | meisterpuck
In my modest opinion, this film is the Coen's greatest achievement to date, even greater than Fargo. I was happy to see so many recent entries on this page, because that means something I predicted long ago is coming true: film buffs are finally "discovering" Miller's Crossing, an underground masterpiece that has dwelt in obscurity for ten years.
The central motif of the hat, and Johnny Caspar's preoccupation with the altitude thereof, brings to mind another underrated masterpiece, Drugstore Cowboy. The complex Jungian symbolism of forests, doors and especially hats is my favorite aspect of the film.
The only criticism I've heard of this film (and I think it's B.S.) has to do with the "over-acting"--a criticism that has been directed at more than one Coen film. Admittedly, Coen screenplays read more like novels than movie scripts and are not always actor-friendly. Gabriel Byrne, who appears in all but two scenes, does a great job playing an extremely complicated character. Tom Reagan is a smart guy surrounded by morons, and exists in a scenario where only muscle counts and brains don't. And he hates it. And he hates himself because he knows he's all brains and no heart. He tries to redeem himself through a selfless devotion to Leo, whom he hates. All this makes for an immensely challenging part, and the film could easily have fallen apart with a lesser actor than Gabriel Byrne playing the lead.
But the acting is great from top to bottom: Marcia Gay Harden (in her big screen debut) as the hard-boiled moll; Jon Polito as the maniacal Johnny Caspar; Steve Buscemi as the hop-addicted Mink; J.E. Freeman, who is such a marvellous screen villain you have to wonder why he's still toiling in obscurity; and Albert Finney, an actor who embodies the term "screen presence." But the Grand Prix goes to John Turturro, who carries the most powerful scene in the movie: when Tom takes Bernie out to Miller's Crossing to "whack" him.
Another criticism frequently levelled against the Coens is that they are preoccupied with "scenes" and don't focus enough on plot coherence. This too is an invalid criticism, as far as I'm concerned. Some people are irritated by a film that you have to watch a couple times to fully understand, but that's precisely the kind of film that I love, and that's why I love Miller's Crossing so much. Every time I see it I pick up on something that I didn't catch before.
Speaking of "scenes", the "Danny Boy" scene is the best. The second best is the following scene, where Tom and Terry walk through a hallway lined with goons. The third is the police raid on the Sons of Erin Club, in which Leo takes on the entire police force.
I'll resist the temptation to call Miller's Crossing "The Greatest Film of All Time"--because who has the right to say that? But I must say that it is my favorite film of all time.