Movie Review: 'Miller's Crossing'

Review of this prohibition mob movie.


Back in the olden days, before The Coen Brothers knew how to be funny, they spent their time creating low-budget B movies with neo noir themes and rather rambling storylines. Some good examples of these early and rather unmemorable films are “Blood Simple” and “Crimewave.” While these films are generally regarded as mediocre, there’s one that people seem to enjoy: Miller’s Crossing.

Back when this was made in 1990, apparently Gabriel Byrne was an unfeeling sociopath, Albert Finney was a boxing champion and expert shot, and John Turturro was a borderline-mentally ill whacko. Well, ok, so maybe Turturro hasn’t changed much, but the other actors were playing larger than life characters in a shambling and poorly structured mob drama.

The movie opens with a fat little Italian guy named Casper (John Polito) who’s complaining that whenever he cheats at horse-racing, his bookie sells the winning horse to other clients. This makes him mad. How dare other people be cheating! That’s his job!

Casper, an Italian mob boss during the prohibition in a small little town called <name withheld> decides to take his quarrel to the older and more influential Irish Mobster named Leo. But Leo refuses to kill The unruly bookie, so Casper and his brainless sidekick “The Dane” (No relation to the large crime-solving breed of dog) swear they will have their justice.

But all is not well with Leo’s Mafia. Leo’s new Moll, Verna (Marcia Gay Harden) is up to something. His reluctant and impassive friend, Tom Reagan, (Gabriel Byrne) Is determined to find out what. When the tail Leo puts on her goes missing, Tom decides to find out what. After getting her drunk and sleeping with her for a very long time, he decides that she may or may not be up to something. Now, some people might say that he’s trying to justify sleeping with his best friend’s girlfriend to the audience, but it’s obvious that their intellect simply can’t compete with Reagan’s. After all, he has a fedora that keeps getting blown off his head, which is symbolism for… something. That means he’s smrt. I mean smart.

We then cut to a scene where one of Leo’s gangsters has been killed. We find out that is the tail that Leo had put on Verna. A little boy comes by, steals the man’s wig, and then leaves.

Okay, okay, hold up here.

1. Why did you steal this guy’s wig? Is there a lucrative wig market in the city of <Name Withheld>? Do you need a father’s day gift for your balding dad?

2. Why just take the wig? He probably has a wallet, a gun, car keys, and some ticket stubs! Take those!

3. Why is this scene even in the movie?  

Eventually, Regan realizes the Verna is the sister to Bernie Bernbaum, the bookie who was selling the results of fixed races.  He confirms she’s seing Leo to keep her brother safe, and may be informing on Leo to keep herself safe. To prove that his theory is correct, Tom explains to his best friend about how he repeatedly lied to him while he slept with his girlfriend. What could possibly go wrong with this situation?

A lot. It turns out Albert Finney has the Strength of Mohammad Ali, Mike Tyson, and  Richard Harris Combined. He proceeds to beat Tom to a pulp and throw him out of his establishment, telling him never to come near him again.

That went well.

Mad at the fact his friend is mad at hi, Tom decides to go over to Casper’s side. Casper is glad to have him, but wants him to prove his loyalty first. He wants Tom to kill Bernie, and dispose of the body. From there on in, the plot becomes increasingly muddled, as Leo kills more and more people, each character starts working for their own agenda, and I care less and less.

Though the movie has a neat atmosphere, and a few good performances, they can’t compensate for the constant salvo of hypocritical speeches about morals, and the rather wishy-washy plot. What begins as a smart Mob thriller degrades into just Gabriel Byrne ticking some people off while the coen brothers find an excuse to kill of characters.

The movie also has THE dumbest tagline ever. The said tagline, which makes me shudder even to repeat it, is  “What’s the rumpus?”

What’s the rumpus? What does that even mean? Now that you mention it, what is a rumpus anyway? Some sort of Australian marsupial? Not at all memorable, and overly stylized, 7/10.

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