Saturday, March 24, 2012

Violence Begets Violence

For reasons I do not know, The Coen Brothers-American cinema masters who have so expertly given us both great dramas and comedies-have only made one gangster movie: Miller's Crossing. Made in 1990 and sporting The Coen Brothers' brand of serious drama with humor mixed in one way or another, Miller's Crossing also happens to be one of their most violent and bloodiest films. Which is fitting considering it is a gangster film set in an undisclosed location with Italian and Irish gangs at each other's throats, although normally The Coen Brothers don't make movies with this high of a body count. The always splendid and grouchy Albert Finley's old Irish gang leader, Leo is forced into a corner by a rival Italian gang even though his right hand man-played with a fierce sense of determination by Gabriel Byrne-over what appears to be a rather simple matter.

As in most gangster and crime movies, this simple issue quickly morphs into a rather large problem, naturally resulting in high displays of extreme bloodletting and stark violence. Several times raids are done by the police simply because a rival gang tipped them off just to get the other gang in serious trouble with the law, and Byrne's Tom treats them as non-events that fail to get his attention despite him bearing witness to such events. Never once does Tom fear the law, as he's rather more concerned with the rival Italian gang threatening his life and his own boss. He also is forced into a corner however concerning the matter of him advising Leo to hand over Bernie, who just happens to be the brother of Marcia Gay Harden's Verna, who is loved by Leo and who is also sleeping with Tom.

Really it is this love triangle that is the center of all of the problems that not only Tom has but also that Leo has, and Tom is quickly forced to work his way out of a mess that only he truly understands. The Coen Brothers skillfully craft a gangster movie that is more than just a typical gangster film, with some philosophical musings through in, not to mention bleak comedy and the rather underlying sense that Tom could be Leo-although whether or not he chooses to be is never really properly discussed, and I will not reveal his final choice in the matter.

Filled with excellent performances, a rather clean cut and sharp script, Miller's Crossing has more in common with Blood Simple and No Country For Old Men, and also reminds me a bit of Fargo and strangely enough Burn After Reading. Few directors in this modern age can so expertly craft portraits of mayhem, murder, and deceit as the Coens can, and that is a testament to their high levels of ability. 95

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