Miller's Crossing  (1990)


Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, Jon Polito
Joel Coen

Rating: R

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Review Posted: 5.18.03


Reviewed by Dennis Landmann




Leo (Albert Finney), a likeable Irish gangster boss, rules an Eastern city along with Tom (Byrne), his trusted lieutenant and counselor. But just as an Italian underboss (Polito) and his ruthless henchman (J.E. Freeman) challenge their authority, Leo and Tom also fall for the same woman (Harden). Tom, caught in the jaws of a gangland power struggle, walks a deadly tightrope as he tries to control and manipulate its violent outcomes.




Coming off the great Blood Simple and the hilarious Raising Arizona, The Coen Bros. create yet another visually defining piece of work. Miller’s Crossing makes Gabriel Byrne stand out really well among a very fine cast. The film is about controlling territory and to what extremes some people will go to achieve such control. The opening scene is interesting, but the next twenty-or so minutes do not indicate right away what the underlying textures of the film are going to be. Only after thirty minutes did I really get into the film. As the film progressed so did my enjoyment.


Miller’s Crossing doesn’t move as fast as it should and lacks a particular focus on its progression, but the positive aspects of the film ultimately outweigh the negatives. For example, Carter Burwell’s score is exciting and moving. Byrne’s acting is focused and cool. Barry Sonnenfeld’s cinematography is engaging and inventive. And last, but certainly not least, the Coen Bros.’ storytelling is imperative. While I think some story elements or scenes need more tightening, the rest are fantastic. Consider the scene between Byrne and John Turturro in the forest, terrific. Watch for Albert Finney’s commanding and in-your-face (literally) rampage as he unloads rounds of ammunition into the bodies of two assassins in his house. Jon Polito is both notorious and hilarious as Italian underboss Johnny Caspar. The whole film is essentially a cat-and-mouse game with twists and turns. The last fifteen minutes are especially indicative of the smarts of the Coen Bros.


Miller’s Crossing should be considered a Coen classic, but aren’t all of their films? Who can choose a favorite from films like Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Fargo and The Big Lebowski? One fact remains, the Coen Bros. deliver a very fine crime drama with Miller’s Crossing.


The Video


Miller’s Crossing is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. For this DVD release, 20th Century Fox updates the print to very good standards, thereby accentuating Barry Sonnenfeld’s "handsome" cinematography. The lack of color detail and depth from the fullscreen VHS version is gone as Miller’s Crossing is presented with a very nice transfer. The colors are terrific in this presentation, especially if you compare it to the VHS version. The transfer really picks up on the green colors in the forest scenes and likewise at other points in the film. I didn’t notice any major artifacts or dirt, but minor problems occurred in some parts. Dark tones and black levels are handled quite well. While I don’t think the transfer is digitally mastered, the print looks pretty clean overall. Miller’s Crossing looks very good, but not great.


The Audio


20th Century Fox presents Miller’s Crossing in an English 4.0 Surround track. The film sustains its impact even though a 5.1 track is not available. Many of the sound effects, mainly gunshots, impact the presentation. Rear speakers are quite hesitant and most of the noise is concentrated on the front speakers, but the noise of this track can’t be ignored. Carter Burwell’s very good score is accentuated surprisingly well. Dialogue is clear most of the time. On a few occasions, however, the lack of surround usage takes its toll on the characters’ accents making some dialogue hard to understand, but subtitles come in handy in this case. Overall, the 4.0 Surround Sound presents its capabilities rather well, but falls short of being anywhere near impressive.


The Extras


Barry Sonnenfeld Featurette – This one-on-one conversation (8:35) with Sonnenfeld is the only substantial extra worth your time. While it doesn’t substitute for an audio commentary, this interview holds interesting and valuable information, such as which lenses Sonnenfeld likes to shoot in and how he became acquainted with the Coen’s and ended up as the cinematographer on three of their films. Fans of the Coen’s and anyone with an interest in cinematography should check out this "handsome" featurette.


Cast Interviews – Not necessarily interviews per se, these snippets taken from interviews feature Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden and John Turturro talking up the film, production, the Coen’s, their respective characters, etc. A “play all” function is included which gives these snippets more of a flow instead of painstakingly selecting each one by one.


You also get the theatrical trailer for Miller’s Crossing (in 2.35:1 widescreen format) and promos for Raising Arizona and Barton Fink. Lastly, some photos of the cast and crew make up the Still Gallery.


The DVD offers English and Spanish subtitles. The menus are not animated. The 115-minute feature is organized into twenty-eight chapters.




If you’re a fan of the Coen Bros. then Miller’s Crossing is definitely for you. It’s a smart crime drama with a really cool performance by Gabriel Byrne, among other really good things (you’ll know if you read the critique). Video and audio presentations are good, but not great. A lack of substantial extras also hurts this release, but the film should not be ignored. A commentary would have been genius, but even without it, this DVD comes recommended. For anyone who is not a fan of the Coen Bros., rent it and you won’t be disappointed.









OVERALL (not an average)







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