With the newest Coen brothers film, Hail, Caesar!, in theaters, the whole internet seems to be ranking their movies—no two lists agreeing on anything, as far as I can tell. Once I realized I was reading those lists looking for Miller’s Crossing, this week’s re-viewing chose itself.
Why Found-Again?: Miller’s Crossing is my favorite movie from the Coens by far, but since it demands my full attention, it doesn’t get rewatched like those movies I can both love and do paperwork with.
The Premise: Pity poor Tom (Gabriel Byrne): his boss Leo is being crowded by a rival crime mob. He’s got the kind of gambling debts that get the attention of leg-breakers. He’s sleeping with his boss’s girlfriend. And he’s the one tasked with saving her con-man brother (John Turturro), who’s in over his head and about to earn a trip to Miller’s Crossing—easily the most beautiful spot for an execution in all of cinema. Tom’s only chance to survive may be to betray everything he loves.
In addition to the just-plain-fun of a crime story and the interpersonal twists—pretty much everyone mentioned above takes a swing at Tom in the course of the movie— Miller’s Crossing is a study in conflicting loyalties, obligations, and brains vs. brawn. To me, though, this is a love story at its most platonic, with Leo and Tom almost a modern take on King Arthur and Lancelot in a corrupt Camelot where the mayor and police chief are sold to the highest bidder… and all done in language that is 80% 1930s gangster flick and 20% poetry.
This is probably the prettiest movie I have ever owned on DVD. (It’s certainly the prettiest American one; Amelie is the only other contender that leaps to mind.) Exhibit A:
The Verdict: This may also be as close to a perfect movie as I own: a gorgeous, well-constructed film with the atmosphere of a long-forgotten golden-age noir that never seems to be cribbing or parodying its inspirations. Indeed, the only thing wrong with Miller’s Crossing is its tendency to make viewers say “What’s the rumpus?” as a casual greeting for days after viewing. It’s a fantastic film that, if my reading is any indication, is undervalued by the entire internet.
Might go well with: Pasta, whiskey, a Chieftains CD, Oscar.
Next time: Into the jungle with Jonny Quest, who is absolutely the person you want rooting around old temples.