Miller's Crossing (1990)

Miller's Crossing (1990), directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.

As is almost always the case with the Coen Bros, we are dropped into a strangely familiar world, not real but not exactly fantastical. We know it from books and movies, but mythological as it may seem, the people in it believe in that world, and so do we.

In this case a lot of it seems the creation of Dashiell Hammett, although I spotted lines from other authors, as in "Let's get stinko" from the end of Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain.

Great snappy patter in the dialogue with a stylish Prohibition vocabulary I don't remember from the books:

Gabriel Byrne is magnetic here. Those soulful eyes, so tough and pained at the same time. We presume he is a tough guy because of the way he talks and carries himself and because he is #2 in Leo's organization, but he is always the one beaten up.

Marcia Gay Harden is a good match for him: also tough, loyal in her own way, but vulnerable under the brittleness. This was her first major film role.

Jon Polito is great as a reduced-scale Godfather with anger issues. He has the best lines: Youse all a bunch of fancy pants. I'm tired of you given' me the high hat. It's a mental state, a question of ethics.

Considerable shooting and bludgeoning violence. In a weirdly balletic move we see a man torn apart with machine gun fire. Note: that's a 100-round drum in the Thompson that Leo (Albert Finney) is using. The Internet Movie Firearms Database estimates he fires about 524 shots from it. The bullet is a .45; one would have been enough.

Critically acclaimed but a box office flop. Loved by fans and popular on home media. It may be my favorite Coen Bros film.

Carter Burwell score. The main theme is an Irish lament that I think of as Tom Reagan's theme. It goes with the Irish mobs in America.

Finally: the very last scene floored me when I first saw it, Tom's sorrow as Leo walks away from the funeral. I know people argue about it, but I think this is unrequited love. Everything Tom has done has been to protect Leo. Even his intimacy with Verna was to keep her and her brother away from him. Think back to a post-coital scene with Tom sitting on the edge of the bed:


Verna: I guess we both double-crossed Leo. He's well rid of us both. The two of us Tom, we're about bad enough to deserve each other.

Tom: (bitterly) Are we?

Available on Blu-ray.