In my modest opinion, the film "Miller's Crossing" is Ethan and Joel Coen's greatest
achievement to date, even greater than Fargo and Oh Brother Where Art Thou. The only
criticism I've heard of this film 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.
The story starts with Tom (Gabriel Byrne), a loyal lieutenant of a crime boss named Leo
(Albert Finney) who is in a Prohibition-era turf war with his major rival, Johnny Caspar (Jon
Polito). A man of principle, Tom nevertheless is romantically involved with Leo's lover (Marcia
Gay Harden), whose screwy brother (John Turturro) escapes a hit ordered by Caspar only to
become Tom's problem. Making matters worse, Tom has outstanding gambling debts he can't
pay, which keeps him in regular touch with a punishing enforcer.
The friendship between Leo and Tom is severed when they both fall in love with Verna. Tom
joins ranks with Johnny Caspar, and a bloody gang war erupts. A little kingpin with an inferiority
complex, he is easily manipulated by Tom, who convinces him that his henchman Dane is in
cahoots with Bernie, allegedly Dane's homosexual lover. Whether straight or gay, the brutes find
it impossible to cope with their feelings, which erupt in a volley of bullets and bashed brains.
If Tom's heart is pierced at all, it is merely for taking the pulse of the times.
The Coens are playing a controlling game, the same as their cast of characters, and control
frustrates passion, irrevocably. Love among these gangsters is a hard-luck affair
With all the energy the Coens put into their films, and all their focused appreciation of genre
conventions and rules, and...