Review: Miller’s Crossing (1990)


Always playing an angle, this man is!

Written By: Ethan & Joel Coen
Directed By: Ethan & Joel Coen

I first watched Miller’s Crossing around two years ago, at a time when I was not yet a big fan of the Coen Brothers. I believe previous to Miller’s Crossing the only other Coen Brothers film I had seen was The Big Lebowski, a film I need to revisit, and while I liked Miller’s Crossing a great deal I felt that something was missing. Two years later I still like Miller’s Crossing a great deal but now I wonder what I ever thought was missing, because I couldn’t find anything the film lacked as I sat through its near two hour run time.

Tom Reagan knows every angle, he understands his fellow man, how he thinks what he will do and how he will act. What he doesn’t understand are games of chance and women, and in that way he is a man that all of us can identify with. Miller’s Crossing is a crime drama, it is a gangster flick, it is reminiscent in ways of Yojimbo, above all those facets Miller’s Crossing is the machinations of one man. The joy I most took away from Miller’s Crossing involved Tom playing both sides against each other, the coolness that never left his mien even as another part of his plan clicked into place. The feeling that maybe, just maybe some scenes weren’t a part of his plan but he was able to make even those moments work for him. I sat watching Dane strangle Tom and a giant smile was splayed across my face, his plan was so well worked and at its most crucial moment he left it all up to the decision of one militant Italian. It’s not just pure genius on Tom’s part, it is excellent writing on the part of the Coen Brothers.

I remember when I first watched Miller’s Crossing the main complaint I heard towards the Coen’s gangster film was the slickness of the dialogue. “People wouldn’t talk like this,” I was told, “It takes you out of the movie when they speak in dialects that have obviously been constructed on pen and paper,” people drilled into my brain. I may have taken those misgivings into account after my first viewing of Miller’s Crossing, but not this time. This time the voices of dissent are falling upon deaf ears, the dialogue is perhaps my favorite part of the entire film. It’s like nails being driven into the wood laid for the foundation of an old style house. Each word builds upon the previous one, you take away one and the entire text will crumble, but as they build upon one another the speech reaches a point where it is almost transcendent. The foundation isn’t just solid, it’s fluid, adapting and molding to whatever threatens to tear at the foundation and rock it to the ground.

I’m going to take a second to talk about a smaller actor, a man who has spent his entire career as a bit player. The cast of Miller’s Crossing is superb from top to bottom, but the man who impressed me the most was lifelong character actor Jon Polito. His Johnny Caspar is like a revelation, a character so interesting that I found myself missing other happenings in scenes he was involved in, that’s how much Polito pulled my attention towards him. Every actor fully clothes himself or herself in their character, but Polito is utterly brilliant as Caspar.

In typical Coen Brothers fashion Miller’s Crossing flips from genre to genre with ease. It is a comedy at times, a drama at others and a crime tome at other moments. The film leans in many different directions but it never feels like its gone off the tracks, the genres come together for one cohesive experience. Miller’s Crossing is also a beautiful film to look at, the cinematography is gorgeous and like usual the Coen’s show an uncanny understanding of depth and space in their shot selection and placement of actors and objects.

The bottom line is that Miller’s Crossing is even better the second time around and further affirms my growing love for the oeuvre of the Coen Brothers. It is an interesting film, full of rich texture and layers, with witty dialogue and tremendous performances out the wazoo. Don’t be like that aimless hat blowing in the wind and miss out on Miller’s Crossing, and always remember, put one in the brain.




6 responses to “Review: Miller’s Crossing (1990)

  1. Nice review.

    Well, I was fortunate enough to like the film on my first viewing itself 🙂 But I’ll give this much to you, I too had that nagging feeling when I’d watched it that perhaps something (don’t really know what) was amiss. Perhaps, like you, I too need a second viewing to turn my liking for the film into love.

    As in all Coen movies, the acting was great throughout. But as you aptly observed, Polito was undoubtedly the one who stole the show.

  2. I admit that I didn’t really read your review, because I need to revisit this myself and I’m afraid of cribbing even unconsciously from your thoughts. I did read the first paragraph and I felt the same way when I first watched it, which is why I know I need to check it out again, because I remember so little of it.

  3. yeah its a hard one to love alright at first, but a great film. gabriel byrne.. one of those great actors youd be happy to see in any film

  4. It also required 2 viewings although not 2 years apart) for me to discover the craftsmenship apparent in ‘Miller’s Crossing.’ It may be a stylized gangster world, but the characters have an authenticity about them which I appreciate.

  5. Pingback: Postulating & Pontificating: Directing Props, Pt. 2! | Bill's Movie Emporium

  6. Shub – Polito is a gem in most thing, but even moreso in this one.

    Jake – Hopefully you did check it out again, and liked it.

    Ross – I haven’t actually seen that much Byrne, but I have liked him in everything I’ve seen him in.

    Edgar – Yes, they are decidedly authentic, and lived in.

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