The current issue of Bright Wall/Dark Room [this issue is now behind a paywall] tips the high hat to Miller’s Crossing and its “dry-eyed lieutenant,” Tom Regan. This essay by Karina Wolf is short in comparison to some twisty and, dare I say, prolix tributes to this dark and dense masterpiece, but she does get to the heart of the matter and that’s what counts.

What’s the rumpus? Here are two excerpts:

When Byrne first appeared as an actor, his looks might have propelled him toward the starrier parts Daniel Day Lewis inhabited. But Byrne is not, after all, a hyper-emotional or physical actor like Day Lewis. And since primary colored conflicts are only a fraction of acting—a good deal more has to do with thinking and listening—Byrne’s talents found a niche. To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, the Americans and the Irish are divided by a common language. And Byrne is best deployed when his characters act according to what we might call an Irish sensibility—not cynical but irreverent, driven by an awareness of the gap between what’s spoken, what’s meant and what’s done. Liam Neeson may carry the mantle of decency—it’s hard to imagine Byrne ever swinging a righteous fist—but Byrne has a corner on the well-aimed epithet and the well-wrought shaggy dog tale. He is a marvelous actor to play tolerant regard for universal hypocrisy.

millerscrossing-by-Bowie28Bowie28 Picspam of Miller’s Crossing

Like Lebowski’s carpet, Tom’s hat accrues a tangle of meanings. Its possession means the ownership of the owner; its value is the promise of allegiance and agency. The hat doesn’t seem to stay attached to Tom’s head. From the opening coda of the film, it skitters and kites along a forest floor, is swapped according to his bad luck, is co-opted like his free will. This is life according to Miller’s Crossing: friendships are canceled and reinvented; allegiances sworn, reviled, reinstated; lives snuffed out and reborn. There’s no neutrality unless you eclipse yourself, by dying or faking your own death or by killing your enemies and making your allies indebted. Only then, like Tom, can you fix your hat atop your head and choose to walk away.


Ms. Wolf titles her essay “The Quare Fellow” and I see what she did there. Here’s more on Brendan Behan’s first play.

The portrait of Gabriel Byrne as Tom Regan at the top of the page is by Brianna Ashby. You can follow her on Twitter.  She did a great job on this issue of the magazine! heart

David Thomson, one film critic who agrees with Ms. Wolf’s assessment of Gabriel Byrne’s achievement in this film–“Byrne has a corner on the well-aimed epithet and the well-wrought shaggy dog tale. He is a marvelous actor to play tolerant regard for universal hypocrisy…”–notes:

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

Take a walk in the woods (without getting killed, I promise!) and enjoy the Miller’s Crossing Mega Movie Page.

And here is the official script, great reading with a tumbler of Irish whiskey at your side and the lights turned low.

chet-phillips-fanart-millerscrossingArt by Chet Phillips

One Comment

  1. Very astute article about the film. Interesting interpretation of Gabriel occupying a “niche” with his roles, although I’m not sure he would want to be pigeonholed. I think he seeks out roles that are distinctive, that don’t fall into any particular “niche”.

    Angelle from Canada

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