A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 402 – Miller’s Crossing

Miller’s Crossing – April 6th, 2011

I should not have watched this tonight. I’m having a very low energy evening after a tiring day and I should have taken the easy way out and watched something silly and simple and gentle on the brain. But I didn’t. Andy suggested this and I said sure and I should have known better because it’s the Coen brothers and they don’t do silly and simple and gentle on the brain. Okay, they do silly, but their version of silly usually involves screaming and people getting killed. But this isn’t silly. It’s the Coens’ version of a noir gangster flick and there is indeed screaming and people do indeed get killed. It’s also not simple or gentle on the brain. It’s got a twisty plot full of characters who don’t do much explaining. At one point I had to stop the movie and go over the set-up with Andy to make sure I had it right. And I didn’t. Like I said, low energy tonight.

When the movie begins we meet a number of sketchy characters. And I don’t mean that they’re not well developed. I mean they’re well developed to be sketchy. We’re talking gangsters and hit men and thugs and bookies and gamblers and snitches. We meet Johnny Caspar and Leo, two of the top level mob bosses in town. We meet their guys and find out that there’s some sort of rotten deal going on with fixed fights and someone leaking the fix and Leo’s protecting that someone (Bernie) and Johnny wants him dealt with but Leo won’t. Backing Leo up is Tom. And Tom? Tom is the one to watch. The movie revolves around Tom. He’s the central figure in a major battle between two rival mobs as they duke it out for control of the city. Tom’s a tricky one to figure out until you realize he’s really quite simple.

Tom is a survivor. Throughout the movie you see Tom cross and double cross and triple cross everyone. He sides with Leo, he fights with Leo, he goes over to Johnny, he calls the police on both sides and plays them like pianos. But he’s also always getting himself beat up. If he planned it all, it seems like a lot of it is awfully sloppy. But I don’t believe he planned it all. I believe that he is a clever man who can read a situation and go with whatever will hopefully get him out. When the situation changes, he changes his plan to suit. It’s fascinating for me to watch and to be honest, he reminds me of a character I very much enjoy, so once I realized what he was doing, I enjoyed watching him a lot more.

And it was tough going for a while there. The Coens like to present you with a number of unlikable or only semi-likable characters and let you struggle to pick out who you’re going to care about. But in a movie like this you really shouldn’t care about anyone. Don’t get attached, because they’re all bad guys, even Verna, Leo’s girlfriend (whom Tom is sleeping with). So I think it’s better to not care about these people. Instead look for things to find interesting about them. I don’t really care about Tom as a person. But do I want to see him survive the movie? Yes. Because I wanted to see how he’d manage it.

As the movie goes on, with Tom getting himself in deeper and deeper and people getting killed and people disappearing, it starts to look like no one’s going to make it out alive. Everyone’s got it in for everyone else and it’s going to come down to who gets to fire first. I really wish I’d been more on top of my game tonight so I could have appreciated the twists and turns a little better. What I did appreciate were the performances. I can honestly say I really truly loved Gabriel Byrne as Tom. Watching him work through each new development became my reason for continuing to pay attention to the movie. And I have to give some serious credit to Albert Finney as Leo and J.E. Freeman as Eddie Dane, one of Johnny’s thugs. Jon Polito and John Turturro were both good as Johnny and Bernie, respectively, but to be honest I don’t think either had to stretch much for the roles they were given. I wish there’d been more of a role for Marcia Gay Harden as Verna, but I wasn’t shocked that there wasn’t. Still, she did well with what she had.

Halfway through this movie I wasn’t enjoying it terribly much. I could acknowledge that it was pretty and that the score was bizarrely light (it’s not the minor key sort of sound you expect) and that the combination of the visuals and score and performances made for a nicely put together movie. But I wasn’t having fun watching it. And then, well, I latched onto Tom and that was all it took. Maybe on another day I’d feel differently about it and if that sort of character doesn’t do it for you then, well, I can’t be of much help. It did it for me. Not my favorite Coen brothers movie, but it does have a Coen brothers character who’s now high on my list.


April 6, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment