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Miller’s Crossing (1990)

by on 2011/03/29

Hello Tom. What’s the rumpus?”

* * * * *

The Quaker Puffed Rice cereal box on a crooked boxer’s breakfast table. The slick tonic in a crime lord’s hair. The shimmer of a mink stole around a bad girl’s neck. The glossy shine on the shoe of a hired killer.

The language of the streets, private clubs and hotel rooms: shmatte, eye-tie, yegge, twists, potato eaters, high hat.

There are movies that create worlds so fully realized, constructed with such artful intricacy, that you are transported mind and body.

Written, directed and produced by Joel and Ethan Coen, Miller’s Crossing is a world I like to visit often.

With rueful blue eyes made by the gods for film noir, Gabriel Bryne (Cool World) plays Tom Reagan, the long-time advisor to a Prohibition crime boss, Leo O’Bannon (Albert Finney).

I read a book on body language recently. One of the biggest dominance “tells” is moving very slowly.

Tom moves slowly. He speaks slowly. He’s deliberate, quiet. When Leo comes over all daffy for a dame, the Irish boss picks a foolish, unwinnable fight with a violent, mercurial rival Johnny Caspar (John Polito).

Tom quietly and deliberately tells Leo this is a bad play, that the love-stuck crime lord’s decision to back Verna’s brother Bernie Bernbaum, played by the remarkable John Turturro (Barton Fink), might get them all killed.

“Tell Leo he’s not God on the throne, he’s just a cheap political boss with more hair tonic than brains.”

Tom’s absolutely right. But Tom’s not without his own foibles and associated missteps. Hard-drinking, slatternly Verna’s (Marcia Gay Harden) also got her blood-red hooks in him. Verna aside, he’s had a run of poisonous bad luck betting on the horses.

Tom’s drowning in gambling debts, in liquor and in Verna. The perfect flawed hero of film noir.

Verna says it best: “Maybe that’s why I like you, Tom. I’ve never met anyone who made being a son of a bitch such a point of pride.”

As things get crazier and crazier around slow-moving, watchful Tom, this neo noir masterpiece simmers and then boils over.

John Turturro is uncomfortably brilliant and entertainingly unlikeable as the down low con artist Bernie. (Why would an actor of his calibre ever do Transformers 2? Why?) Steve Buscemi (Trees Lounge) plays Mink, Bernie’s friend. J.E. Freeman plays Eddie “The Dane” Dane, with a face like an Easter Island statue – pure stony menace.

The characters, the settings, the plotting, the dialogue are astounding in this perfect film. Yes, I said perfect. Perfect.

Anyone who disagrees should meet me at 4:00 a.m. in my apartment. Just to chat.

Look into your heart.

* * * * *

115 minutes

Rate R for being violently amazing

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