Verna: Shouldn’t you be doing your job?
Tom Reagan: Intimidating helpless women is my job.
Verna: Then go find one, and intimidate her.
It is the writing that first grabs you as the whiskey-soaked and beautifully lit world of Miller’s Crossing takes shape on the screen. Then the interiors, particularly Leo’s cavernous and well-appointed office and Tom’s seedy, manly rooms, catch your eye. And finally, the performances command your attention, as the words flowing from the actors in these Prohibition-era spaces bring the eccentric and meticulously planned story by the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, to life.
Nobody knows anybody. Not that well.
Tom Reagan, Leo’s right hand man and consigliere, is the protagonist of this story. He is not much good with a gun or his fists. His handsome face and blue eyes shining from beneath his hat do not matter much, either. It is his intelligence and wit that are the key to this story and Gabriel Byrne is perfectly cast as Tom. He makes these qualities so intrinsically and unquestionably real in this character that you believe such a man could exist: a gangster who cannot defend himself in a fight, who takes a beating with a smile and a split lip, and who out-thinks, out-plans, and out-connives absolutely everyone in his midst. Does it take a smart man to play a smart man? Well, that is what we have in Gabriel’s performance.
And what we also have is a parable about losing one’s soul. Most reviewers of the film when it was first released dismissed it as an interesting film without much going for it. Only in the last decade has respect for it increased and the archetypal themes it presents been viewed seriously. Perhaps it takes time for such imaginative efforts, with intricate dialogue and complicated plots, to find their audience and their aficionados. At any rate, Miller’s Crossing is now highly regarded and Gabriel’s performance has been acknowledged by critic David Thomson:
Somehow, I always have the urge to reach out and tickle Gabriel Byrne. I think it’s because his uncommon aura of gloom and sadness seems so complete it likely masks a teaser or a practical joker. But looking the way he does, how is he ever going to get cast in a comedy–especially when films incline so naturally towards ruined priests, morose gangsters, and depressed terrorists? And, truth to tell, he did the poker-faced, life-is-short routine so superbly in Miller’s Crossing (1990, Joel and Ethan Coen) that he might as well laugh sometimes. That’s not just his best film, it’s one of the best performances in American film–the whole melancholy routine. –Excerpt from Gabriel Byrne’s entry in David Thomson’s The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, Expanded and Updated, published in 2004
“What’s the rumpus?” indeed!
The Miller’s Crossing Mega Movie Page offers promotional pictures, reviews, screencaps, videos, quotes, articles, the script, soundtrack information, and more about this remarkable film.
Enjoy and try to hang on to your hat. wink
Thanks to Aragarna for the multitude of screencaps!