Miller’s Crossing: What’s the Rumpus?

Miller’s Crossing

The reputation of Miller’s Crossing precedes it here on Row Three where virtually everything the Coen Brothers do is canonized as quip-worthy gold. This marathon is an curious endurance test for me on the one hand as I am seeing films by directors that I am, shall we say, less enthusiastic about than most, yet for each, whether Sam Mendes, Brian DePalma, Steven Soderbergh, or the Coen Brothers, I would like nothing more than to share in the chorus of adulation. While these directors have won me over on occasion, their careers are spotty at best and not nearly as unblemished as others here attest to in their regular worship sessions.

With the exception of Intolerable Cruelty, I have seen every Coen Brothers film. Of these thirteen films, maybe five of them have I truly enjoyed. The Coens are masters of composition and visual flare, and as screenwriters they are wry and intelligent wordsmiths. I don’t question their talents in these regards so much as I question the underlying motivations they are employed towards. Far too often the matters of storytelling take a secondary importance to the primary interest in stylistic wit. Films such as Fargo, No Country for Old Men and Blood Simple are rare examples of the directors using proper restraint both in their scripts and in their visual styles to best serve the stories and themes. More often than not, the conceit of reappropriating cinematic conventions is foremost on their minds, the style determining the story. More than even Tarantino, the repurposing demagogue of modern cinema, the Coen Brothers have made their films more about film history than life as it is lived. Like Tarantino, their saving grace is that they are funny, and the pastiche rifts they employ do amount to laughs, when laughs are what is intended.

Still, that they sample legendary filmmakers and iconic films does not by association make them a part of that league of talent, and yet there seems to be a consensus that because their films take on the accoutrements of greatness they too must be great. There is a fundamental difference between stories that have something to say about the world and stories that cannot look beyond their own stylistic myopia. There is a difference between David Bowie and Vanilla Ice, though they may use the same basic sounds, the act of sampling is by and large an inferior form of art-making. Yes all art is fundamentally theft, but there needs to be something on your mind outside of the theft that justifies its creation, and with the Coen Brothers, more often than not, I don’t see anything outside of the movie conventions they wish to repurpose, I don’t see the original germ of a story that the style is in service of.

Albert Finney Miller's Crossing

This is my long way of getting around to saying I didn’t like Miller’s Crossing. In precisely the manner I have been describing, this film is inscrutably divorced by any mandate of coherent and effective storytelling, and is instead reduced to a bunch of vignettes that work in isolation as comedic short film concepts. Dialogue is deliberately abstracted by idiom overload, mashing together bits and pieces of a lexicon from 30’s gangster films and Looney Tunes cartoons, and the intent is clearly to focus less on what the characters are trying to say to each other and revel in the witty poetics of the surface effect. And it is funny, don’t get me wrong, but to the sacrifice of the story, and to character. This was my first viewing of Miller’s Crossing, and I genuinely have no idea what happened, all I can piece together is that Gabriel Byrne plays a sort of Yojimbo role between warring gang factions, and that over the duration of the film many double-crosses are played out. Like I said before, I am not sure knowing what happened is even the point for the Coen Brothers, here more than anywhere else, it is glaringly clear that the surface ornament of the film is what interests them most. They revel in the details, the unusually long rooms that draw emphasis to the staginess of their production, the constant play on the hats as something actors more so than actual gangsters would I suspect be emphatic about, and the cartoony use of tommy guns and police raids, all playing off of the foreknowledge of the conventions, all smug in their enjoyment of rendering them in new and esoteric contexts.

Miller’s Crossing always stood out as a film I should watch as far back as seeing the very first VHS cover design in my local rental store, with its evocative image of a man being taken out into the woods by gunpoint presumably to be executed. That scene in particular was the stand-out of the whole movie, and I dare suspect the whole ambition of the film was built around that germ of an idea, of which all the story surrounding it is just fodder to play it out. In the process a lot of talent is wasted, in particular Albert Finney and Gabriel Byrne who chew the fat tediously. John Turturro and Jon Polito on the otherhand, are on fire throughout this film and make it worth watching just for their squeamishly burlesque performances. All in all, I consider Miller’s Crossing a minor work in the Coen Brothers’ back catalogue, somewhere alongside The Hudsucker Proxy and The Man Who Wasn’t There, a film that best illustrates how insubstantial their storytelling interests can be all for the sake of a couple clever punchlines.

Check out this Siskel and Ebert review of Miller’s Crossing, for once I am in complete agreement with Roger: (sorry it won’t embed)

This is case where I think the trailer is better than the movie, and frankly makes more sense:

Mike Rot
Master of War


  1. @Rot "The primary interest in stylistic wit."

    You say this like it is a bad thing. There is a decided lack of stylistic wit in cinema, and The Coen's fulful that niche admirable, occasionally breaking out to add something more. As cinema is an emotional medium as much (probably moreso) as it is a cerebral, or even 'narrative' one.

    I say boo to you sir for hacking the film off at the knees on the grounds of 'it wasn't a great story.'

    Coen Brothers films (as with Wes Anderson) tend to age better when we untangle ourselves from the need of all the narrative strings, and focus more on the please of each individual moment. Now I cannot disagree with you when you say that most of the Coen's filmmography (particularly Hudsucker, Millers, O Brother, Burn After Reading and The Big Lebowksi) tend to function better a lot of great individual parts rather than the sum of their parts. I say DAMN, that's OK, even necessary.

  2. It took me 8 attempts to watch Miller's Crossing, and by that I mean something came along that made me have to stop it. A couple times I began watching it too late and had to go to bed and didnt get around to finishing it soon enough to continue.

    When I finally DID get around to watching it, it was with my parents in Edmonton over the holidays, and because my dad is half deaf, we watched it with subtitles on.

    I have to say this greatly increased my enjoyment over every other attempt, and watching it with the subtitled script made it flow and zip like you wouldnt believe. Its another Coen 5/5 from me but because of that thing I dont know if I can say its earned without it. Maybe when I rewatch it…

  3. "I consider Miller’s Crossing a minor work in the Coen Brothers’ back catalogue, somewhere alongside The Hudsucker Proxy and The Man Who Wasn’t There"

    If you dont like the Hudsucker Proxy, I will bid you a good day, sir.

    I said good day!


  4. @Kurt

    I am not saying Miller's Crossing isn't a great story, I am saying its an incomprehensible story, and agree entirely with what Ebert says in the youtube clip I added. Its about thirty to forty minutes into the film before you even get a grasp of the people they are talking about, and the dialogue never stops to let you in on what is going on. Thats not good storytelling, and fundamentally yes, you need to be able to tell a story well, unless of course you are doing something non-narrative, but this isn't the case. This is a poorly told story that goes for the joke at every turn while still feigning an interest in the characters it has onscreen.

    The execution scene is the only moment in the film where something is going on.

    There is a difference between the stylistic flourishes of Wes Anderson that don't linger on themselves but create the world within which an actual story with actual characters interact, and Miller's Crossing, which has no interest in plot and character and everything EVERYTHING is about style for style's sake, I mean down to the very dialogue being spoken, its all ornament, all about itself. And my problems with Tarantino and DePalma and the Coen Brothers, and Soderbergh are when they use style for its own sake and get too interested in being clever, that they forget to tell a worthwhile story. I am all for flashy style so long as it adds to a worthwhile story. If it is done because you can, because you are wry and intelligent screenwriters and can find a visual gag, or several, and can string them together, that is not to me praiseworthy.

    I like The Big Lebowlski, and this film geek auteurism works best in straight up comedies, that do not ask of you to care about story or character, and just laugh. And yeah, I don't mind Ladykillers either as a comedy.

    Its when they are spoken of as visionaries that I resist, because to be a visionary you need something to say. For something to look unique to me is not enough. If looking unique was enough I would be satisfied with abstract painting, but what I am interested in is narrative, and I rank the ability to tell a good story about actual things, the magic of cinema that I rarely see displayed in the Coen Brother's work.

  5. "Its about thirty to forty minutes into the film before you even get a grasp of the people they are talking about, and the dialogue never stops to let you in on what is going on. Thats not good storytelling, "

    I'm cool on 'expositionless' storytelling. Have you watched David Mamet's SPARTAN yet? oi. Love the 'drop you in the thick of things' attitude of the filmmaker on that one. And I missed you at LIMITS OF CONTROL yesterday, and in light your above comment, I don't think we'd have seen eye to eye on that one. Which is a total STORY-TELLING-BE-DAMNED kinda of genre flick, somewhere along the lines of Boarding Gate.

  6. I'm cool with non-narrative (i.e. mood pieces) and some of my favorite films fall into that category (Gerry, Inland Empire), and with narrative films there is how are they saying it, and what are they saying to look at.

    I know the kind of set you in the middle of it, learn as go kind of storytelling you talk of kurt, The Wire is a good example of that, but there is enough of a thread to get by, and I think the difference with Miller's Crossing is its just badly written, its not just withholding information from you, it along with the intent of being deliberately obtuse with dialogue, does not give you an opportunity to follow much of anything. I found myself continually drawn to the veneer, to the poetics of the dialogue, the stylized mis-en-scene, and whatever was happening in the plot became utterly meaningless. A good story wouldn't leave you in the lurch like that.

    Ask what is the film thinking about? With Miller's Crossing, its film geeks thinking up cool ways to repurpose cinematic conventions, thats it. Its "how clever am I?", and if I am going to choose to spend my time with the guy at the party who can only utter that self-affirmation or the person who actually has something to say about the human condition, I'll go with the latter.

  7. I see what you are saying Mike, but at the moment, my brain is a bit lost in the Jarmusch film, so I'll bow out awkwardly! And Cowardly! 🙂

  8. Although I generally agree more with Kurt about style-for-style's-sake films (I love them, and I love cinema-repurposing films), I curiously felt mostly the same way as you, Mike, about Miller's Crossing. I've only seen it once, and I enjoyed the dialogue and cinematography, but put it far down my list of Coen Brothers films. However, I put it immediately on my list to rewatch and re-evaluate at a later date.

    I guess I get now why you dislike Godard. :p

  9. I am at a loss of thinking of any examples where style for style's sake has resulted in a good film…

    the highly stylized films I like always use the style deliberately to tell their stories:


    Waking Life

    The Limey

    21 Grams


    I can't think of one where style is entirely ornamental that is also good.

    and yeah Jandy, Godard is top of my shit list, exactly because of this.

  10. actually come to think of it, I guess Von Trier is the exception for me, I like a lot of what he does and it is using style deliberately to offset expectations, to be not so much in service of narrative but its own character the audience has to reckon with.

    Dogville is very much saying look how clever I am, but I guess for me, that its topic is not film history but his own twisted take on America fascinates me enough to allow for the bombast.

  11. Rot, I don't think you've ever understood that Alphaville was meant more as a parody than anything else.

    Here are several films which are more or less storyless or have very little to say, yet style makes them plenty watchable, even 'very-damn-good' films, a couple of them are even "GREAT":

    Pistol Opera

    Time of the Wolf


    Miami Vice

    Sin City

    El Aura

    Tears of the Black Tiger

    House of Flying Daggers

    Blow Up


    The Broken


    Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas

    Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi

    Funky Forest: The First Contact

  12. I'm going to have to rewatch Babel before Kurt and I can have words about it. Then we might not need to! Hah. No, the thing with Babel for me was it seemed like Inarritu (sorry, too lazy to sort out accent marks) just decided to see how many horrible things he could have happen to his characters without anything good happening. I'm not one to always need redemption or good endings or resolution or anything in films, but damn. Babel just felt sadistic on Inarritu's part to me. I didn't get that from 21 Grams or Amores Perros – they made it feel like the bad things the characters endured were worth it.

    And I felt insulted by the super-flimsy connection between the Japanese story and the other two. Especially since the other two were so tightly connected. I wished he'd just left them completely separate.

  13. let me put it this way:

    highly stylized when working to forward the narrative = good

    highly stylized when working to comment on cinema or arch its themes in an academic look at me as a text to be analyzed rather than a narrative = boring

    The worst thing to me is when a film is trying to fuck with you as an audience member when it has no bearing on the actual story, that it exists fundamentally to fulfill some geek film equivalent of the high five among the savvy. I can take it in doses, the odd wink, but when a film like Alphaville is one long conceit about how it parodies pre-existing conventions while frankly boring me to death, than yeah, I take issue with it. I can't imagine a scenario where someone could watch Alphaville and not know it is tongue in cheek, but it is also incomprehensible tongue in cheek, or without consulting x, y, z academic papers incomprehensible, which is what I am getting at. This inside-joke cinema is so boring to me, its a residual of post-modern inertia, that all we can do now is sample what has happened before and put our meta imprint on it, and be done with it.

    I just watched Bonnie and Clyde and that film is amazing, it had a story to tell and it told it and the style, though radical, conforms to the needs of the story… the story is not an anecdote to get across some clever conceit (in retrospect I have less respect for Natural Born Killers, I wasn't aware how much it cribbed from this film).

  14. @Rusty. "careful consideration of their content or more of an off the cuff analysis?"

    A few of 'em are off the cuff there sure. I'm sure one or two rowthree regulars is making a case for Signs, Fear&Loathing or Miami Vice. If I've made a big oops on any of those (all of those titles I've seen multiple times), I await to be enlightened!

  15. As you said Rot style/meta/whathaveyou, it works better in pure comedies, satires and parodies than in straight dramas, but Brian DePalma does it A-LOT, have you seen a number of his films. How about the ultimate in style/meta/winking over substance -> FEMME FATALE. A movie I derive much pleasure from watching for simply the skill (and baffling lack of reason) the thing is put together in the first place. Everything is done simply just to do it. I don't know if there is much of a point to FF, but I liked wondering what the fuck was going to happen next.

    In fact "WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT" can often be a huge strength for me, I'll take the occasional dose of complete unpredictability even it all the pieces do not fit neatly together. Surely you got to the point in Battle Star Galatica where the creators decided to do something **REALLY** radical. That was pretty interesting

  16. I have just finished Razor, the lead up to season 4 of Battlestar. Are you referring to the finale of season 3? Outside of a couple finales of Lost that is one of my favorites ever. Even though I knew early on what they were doing with the song (although shamefully I confused songs) but also that finale defied what one usually expects from a finale in a way that was satisfying. I mean the majority of it is a courtroom case, how they could make that work and not piss me off is beyond me.

    Admittedly I have seen very little DePalma… I have seen Sisters, Raising Cain, Redacted, and disliked them all. I know Tarantino is a big fan of DePalma and I see him taking up his fetishistic interest in cinema… at least when Hitchcock was doing it it had a narrative function, he made pure cinema without trying to draw anymore attention to it then was necessary to exploit the emotions of the story. DePalma and Tarantino to me are playing the same notes but not getting at the music, they are Vanilla Ice to Hitchcock's David Bowie. That said, both have made solid films, I am talking in general terms, their leanings are to be too indulgent in ways that stray from necessity of enhancing the story. They are the kind of musicians that do the derivative guitar solos.

  17. If you dont like that a movie takes x amount of time to reveal its story and make sense to you, do you make any note that watching it a second time would possibly be a more fulfilling experience, that you'd get more out of it? Or do you expect a movie to wow you and be clear that first time?

    I mean, I wouldnt put any blame on someone not wanting to revisit something they didnt initially enjoy, but I keep in mind that a lot of my favorite albums are 'growers' that dont really reveal much on first listen, and know that this applies to a lot of movies as well. Certain Coen films, and definitely a couple of Wes Anderson films, are this way for me.

  18. I would say certain stories are warranted a kind of prolonged withholding of meaning but it doesn't make much sense in this film which is not about suspense or seemingly about overturning that kind of generic mode of storytelling… I really think it is bad writing, something that looked good on paper but didn't appreciate when it is spoken and paced out that the film goes too fast for audiences to keep up with plot points, and plot points ARE important in Miller's Crossing, (this is not a Lynchian nullifying you into an experience technique). Ebert has got my back, it never happens, so I am going to keep bringing up his name.

    but funny you bring this up Goon because I am writing a review right now and this exact point you raise is hitting me in the face, and in many instances I would agree, I never liked OK Computer when I first heard it, The Thin Red Line, Mulholland Dr, the very new and confrontational experiences are usually hard to swallow the first time around, and then afterwards they become great.

  19. For me its comedies or dialogue driven dramas that are enhanced with me on repeated viewings. Often the ones you could call "hangout movies", that I may like or be on the fence with, that really grew on me and stayed in my head to the point I had to give it another chance to wow me. In recent years this has included Pineapple Express and Death Proof.

  20. I just rewatched O Brother Where Art Thou, and for some reason when I saw it at the theater I didn't think much of it, but now this second viewing its like an entirely different film. If anything this is the Coen's at their wittiest, and it works. The film bounces along. I think Jandy will be doing a review of it for this marathon so I wait until it comes up to get into detailed praise, but here is an example Goon of what you are talking about.

  21. "I don't want Fop, Godddamnit! I'm a Dapper Dan man!

    (Please watch your language sir, this is a public market)."

    O Brother is very, very much rewatchable. Catchy soundtrack only seals the deal for me.

  22. at the time of its release Clooney didnt have that same rep he has now as a goofball, so I think a lot of people found his mannerisms and one liners off putting at the time. I kind of got it though, and "We're in a tight spot" and "we thought you was a toad" gets bandied about the house frequently. The latter one has more uses than you'd think.

  23. Now I will first admit that I have seen Miller's Crossing more times than probably any other movie and it has been years since I first saw it but from what I remember I never had any trouble following just what was happening.

    You basically have a few stories happening at the same time and they are all interconnected.

    Tom is banging Leo's girl Verna who happens to have a brother Bernie who screwed up the fixed fight for Casper. Casper wants to kill Bernie. Leo says know cause he loves Verna. From there it just plays out.

    A little while ago I was thinking of doing some posts about actors who should have won an academy award but were never nominated. Turturro as Bernie definitely fits this.

    For me though the best aspect of Miller's Crossing is trying to figure out just how much of what Tom does is fully planned out and how much is just luck falling into place.

    I just watched the Siskel and Ebert and I don't understand why neither of them pick up why there was a body in the woods and how it got there.

    Oh well, maybe I've just seen it way too many times and now everything fits perfectly into place.

    • This is a movie I cannot resist watching anytime it is available. I can see why the plot may be hard to follow for some; there is important dialogue that isn’t clearly spoken – Steve Buscemi’s Mink speaks in a tone that is very unclear, the same is true with John Polito’s opening words. But even given that, the plot is very clear even if only in retrospect. On the body in the woods, I am surprised S&E missed the point. This was fully explained in Bernie’s talk with Tom.

      And, yes, I fully agree that how much Tom has planned any of this out in advance is part of the tension of the movie.

      I can’t see it simply as a series of vignettes. The underlying plot caught me the first time I saw the film. This is everything “The Glass Key” was meant to be.

  24. maybe, but even with all the times i had to reboot to finish it, i knew what was happening each time. If you're not paying much attention for the first few minutes, you're probably fucked though.

  25. I like to think I was paying attention and I, like Siskel and Ebert, have no clue why there is a body in the woods, and sure if I watched the film over and over and over I would probably figure it out.

    as for O Brother, the 'were in a tight spot' line cracked me up… and then when they are lighting ablaze the second barn, Everett goes "maybe I can sneak up there and grab my polomade" its these quick asides that are comic gold.

    "I'm the paterfamilias, I spread my seed everywhere"

  26. @John "Tom does is fully planned out and how much is just luck falling into place"

    Agreed on this somewhat, I just treat Tom more as an agile thinker than a 'this was all planned out' kinda guy. He makes a lot of mistakes and bad decisions in the film, he just rolls with the next challenge better than any of the other characters. Although Finney's dealing with his own assassination attempt is positively priceless in the film, both in the over-the-top value and the surprising amount of violence in the scene. (…)

  27. I like to think I was paying attention and I, like Siskel and Ebert, have no clue why there is a body in the woods, and sure if I watched the film over and over and over I would probably figure it out.

    There's a body in the woods so people would think he killed Bernie Bernbaum. The body is Mink. So it has the double effect of Tom gaining Casper's trust, while further driving a wedge between Caspar and The Dane.

    That's not rolling with the punches, that's "seeing all the angles" and thinking ahead. And it also ties all three "love triangles" together and sets them to their inevitable conclusions.

    BTW, Ebert has amended his "take" of Miller's Crossing, which he so often does with movies he initially hates and the public grows to love. What a douche.

  28. Mike, I suggest taking a minute or two and just watch the scene with Buscemi (Mink). He pretty much sums up what is all happening in his discussion with Tom. The Coens wrote it in such a way that you don't realize he is doing it but really he is.

  29. First of all the scene with Buscemi is just bad, he is talking a mile a minute, its an abrupt cut to the scene, he is name dropping and the speed of it all and trying to figure out who is and in relation to whom is I'm sorry but bad writing and directing choice. All I got out of it is here is a fidgety character.

    I figured the body was Mink, but I still don't understand how it got there. Tom didn't put it there, else why was he vomiting out of fear? So, what, Bernie did? How did Bernie know to do that, what is Bernie to Mink? And it is odd that the point of the kill was to prove Tom's loyalty yet no one watches him do it… I don't get how that happens, but also that anyone is smart enough to know this happened and think ahead to feel a body is necessary to cover up Bernie's escape, that is contrived to all hell.

    • [I hope these don’t count as spoilers.] To clarify, as I understand the film, Bernie and Mink are lovers, but Mink is supposed to be the Dane’s lover. ..a reason for Mink to be nervous about cheating on the Dane. Bernie kills him to keep Mink from spilling everything, or a similar reason related to Mink’s delicate situation. Tom vomits because he is scared, he has no idea there is a body out there and is certain he is going to be whacked by the Dane. Because Bernie shot Mink in the face, and the birds had been at him, Johnny Caspar’s guys don’t recognize the body as not that of Bernie.

  30. From what Ebert, Siskel and Mike all say my take is that they missed the fact that Bernie says he put Mink there. Tom rolling with the punches is just how he deals with the fact that there is now a body in the woods.

  31. problems:

    1) Does Bernie really seem like the kind of character that would be so considering of ramifications? He got into the situation in the first place because he was oblivious. So this idea that he kills Mink reeks of writers needing things to happen.

    2) when did he kill Mink? I am assuming it was before he met up with Tom again, and based on what exactly did he make this decision? He wouldn't know what Caspar knows or doesn't know or what even Tom is doing with them. Its seems a rather arbitrary thing to do not having any inside information on what is going on with them.

    3) Even if he could predict that they would return to Miller's Crossing, why should Tom know exactly where the body is? there was no sense of it being in a specific place, so this murder relies on the assumption that Caspar will call Tom out on not doing the hit, then demand him show the body and that the argument that its somewhere in the woods is not good enough. all stretches that are convenient to serve a painfully convoluted script.

  32. i'm still generally a little stunned that you found this difficult to follow. It's not that complex.

    I've just begun season 3 of Deadwood, which similarly jumps ahead from the end of season 2 with some things they're not telling you and expecting you to catch up with and piece together, and that has the added handicap of deciphering it through their "funny talk" on that show. But I still get it.

    We're talking as if Miller's Crossing is Primer, and I don't see why it was so difficult for you.

  33. says the guy who watched the film closed captioned. Its a different experience to see the physical names and reading a story rather than getting as it is happening with the visual flare the Coen offer distracting you.

    but whatever, I am not disputing the facts of the plot now, my point now is if that is the plot, its pretty lousy writing, for the 3 points I made above. There are a lot of conveniences made to make this puzzle hook up properly, and it feels false to me, just another ornament to an otherwise limp tree.

  34. You had been complaining about it being confusing from the get go and specifically the first half hour to hour or so. I had seen this part of the movie over and over again and understood it. I only ended up watching it with closed captioning when I was stuck watching it with a half deaf person. It made me pay more attention to the dialogue and appreciate it more, sure, but I find that kind of inherent to anything I watch with subtitles as well.

    So by that standard I guess every foreign film has some advantage over domestic films by also having names places, etc spelled out for you?

  35. 1) Yes he does. He is an opportunist who was relying on the fact that he could hide behind Leo. I always took Bernie as being smarter than he comes across. Perhaps you are right but I just imagine that all of the characters are very street smart.

    2) If I was Bernie I sure as hell would leave a corpse in my place just in case someone came to check. I can't give a specific time but it would be just any time between the two scenes.

    3) I also imagine that Miller's Crossing (ie the location) is a place where many of the bodies ended up. Therefore it would just make sense that it would be fairly easy to find the location.

  36. 2) I guess the logic is that he had no intention of leaving town and wanted to blackmail Tom but in order to have the upperhand he couldn't have the prospect of Caspar finding out anything and decided to do the Mink cover. I still don't like it as a story point or how it is told but that is problem the reason.

    3) then they should of made an emphasis of Miller's Crossing, a line about this is where we drop bodies, some signature in the woods that indicates a spot where it would be implausible for Tom not to be able to retrace his steps.

  37. "hen they should of made an emphasis of Miller’s Crossing, a line about this is where we drop bodies, some signature in the woods "

    This is implicit in both using it as the title of the movie and the visual framing of the scenes there. The posture of the guys waiting at the car.

    It's no different than throwing bodies in the Hudson or Thames river.

    I think it is an absolute given that Miller's Crossing is an oft use disposal spot.

  38. yeah, thats pretty obvious. I mean in other mob movies you don't need any explanation that when people are taking someone to a spot by the river, or in the middle of a desert, something is going down. So they go to the woods, what's so different?

  39. I figured the body was Mink, but I still don’t understand how it got there. Tom didn’t put it there, else why was he vomiting out of fear? So, what, Bernie did? How did Bernie know to do that, what is Bernie to Mink?

    What was Bernie to Mink? Did you somehow totally miss that they were sleeping together? It's alluded to constantly in the film and Tom outright states it at one point.

    And how did Bernie know? He openly admits he plays every angle someone gives him. So he knew that when Tom let him live he needed to not only protect himself, but by doing so it would allow him to have an angle to use against Tom.

  40. Wow Matt. I don't recall the Bernie/Mink gay-love-affair in the movie myself, (and I've seen the film several times). Time to go off and watch Millers Crossing one more time.

  41. "Like where's the schmada. Maybe you can tell us that."

    "The Royal. Room 302. And you might find Mink with him."

    "The hell you say."

    "Sure Bernie and Mink are cozy as lice. And it ain't just business"

    Wait until you realize Mink and The Dane are sleeping together as well. The Dane/Mink/Bernie is the second love triangle in the film.

    What I love about this storyline is that it is incredibly subtle, and pretty much impossible to pick up on during an initial watch. But once you know its there, it really helps clarify why certain characters acted the way they did. And contrary to what Rot keeps claiming, it proves that Miller's Crossing isn't all about being showy, the film is layered like an ogre and one of the most rewatchable films the Coen's have ever made, specifically due to its complex and fascinating story.

  42. Now I'm not sure if I just sublimated this information or have actually missed the gay angle all this time. Wow. Sometimes you're good for something, Gamble 😉

  43. I'm full of useful tidbits!

    It can get missed due to the colorful language, but I think you'll be suprised Kurt at just how obvious it is once you actually know it is there.

  44. OK, I just sat down with Miller's Crossing again, and I feel so damn stupid for never really picking up on this. I think part of me when watching it was aware of it, but never on a 'lingering-conscious level' – I mean DAMN. DAMN!!!! it is so bloody obvious.

    And for that matter, I was confused above when Rot said he didn't know who killed Mink. I thought the film made it obvious that Bernie did (I mean Mink's corpse is even wearing Bernie's clothes!!!) But maybe Rot just missed the quiet phone conversation that Tom has with Bernie where he point plank cops up to it.

    Maybe Rot just missed the incredibly obvious, (like me on the Mink/Dane angle!) ha.

    Thanks Rot, I remain loving this movie, even moreso, now that the double love triangle is crystal to me!

  45. my point remains that even if plot points are somewhere in the script they are poorly brought out in the film. you can say its not a crime for a film to be incomprehensible on the first viewing, but not for this type of story, it wants you to know its sleight of hands storytelling, and here is me, Kurt, Siskel and Ebert all watching the same film and not getting these plot points because as the film paces and tells its story it does it poorly.

    I don't get the awe of this Mink Bernie link… it seems fairly arbitrary to me, we know Mink from one scene where he is talking a mile a minute, and dropping names that I am sorry, I had no idea what he was talking about. To have this character show up as a key plot point, to me is still random, and convenient for the writers.

    Because Bernie and Mink are lovers that justifies why he would kill Mink and plant his body? I still don't get it,there is no natural flow to this story, its contrived all to hell. Bernie was greedy and got himself in a problem with Caspar, didn't have the self-preservation to avoid this predicament, but now I am to believe he is this ultra-savvy mastermind that can anticipate all these variables which really did not need to end up the way it did but does so because the writers want it to work that way.

    but wow, I can't believe we are still talking about this movie

  46. Bernie got into a fight with Mink over the sitaution they were in, and Bernie being a bit of a savage, killed him, then left a present at Miller's Crossing. Where else to dump the body, and why not do that. Bernie is not stupid, he plays the angles as well as the next guy. He just has no loyalty.

  47. Also Kurt, their is a third "lover's triangle" in the film, though that one is metaphorical. But it is the one that is the key to the resolution of the film.

    I can’t believe we are still talking about this movie

    Well you are complaining about the script being a problem, when every question you have is answered in the film. So really the fault with the film is you. 😀

  48. Yea, the loyalty and brotherhood bit between Tom, Leo and Kaspar.

    And the loyalty/spouse bit between Tom/Leo/Verna.

    The inter connectivity of the characters in this film is magnificent.

    Did someone mention Shakespearean up above in the comments?

  49. All I want to say at this point is you should quit Calling to Authority with Ebert to try and make a point. Overall now you seem to just be namedropping him rather than just relying on the strength of the actual argument.

    I like Ebert too, but he's quite capable of missing the obvious – in both directions 😛


    "KNOWING is among the best science-fiction films I’ve seen — frightening, suspenseful, intelligent and, when it needs to be, rather awesome. In its very different way, it is comparable to the great DARK CITY, by the same director, Alex Proyas. That film was about the hidden nature of the world men think they inhabit, and so is this one."

  50. actually I generally disagree with Ebert, but I don't see why I can't add his name to the chorus to make a point, and again, this point doesn't seem to be getting through, so let me try it again.

    It doesn't matter what was SUPPOSED to be understood while watching the Coen film, I never once thought that the Coen's actually wrote a story that made no sense whatsoever, that they didn't have reasons (however flawed I find them) for why characters do what they do in the film. My point from the very beginning is the execution of that story is flawed, and the proof of that is there has been now four people here who didn't know what was going on in certain parts of the film.

    its not a film that wants ambiguity, it wants to tell a clever story, but that clever story is buried within a film that is too stylized for its own good, characters like Mink talk too fast in too much jargon that any plot points they may have are lost for the sake of being clever.

    gotta go, not finished with my point.

  51. But Rot, there is nothing wrong with a film that has to be seen multiple times for comprehension. Primer anyone? 2001: A Space Odyssey, Duck You Sucker, The Big Sleep, Memento, etc.

    I mean in essence, Miller's Crossing is a merge of noir, gangster and grifter tropes, the first and last genres are never cut and dry from a plotting point of view. The craftsmanship of Miller's Crossing is impeccable, it is a good story told in a very good way, just not a meal that can be completely consumed by one sitting. Nothing wrong with that at all.

  52. Well rot, you just keep making a point I simply don't agree with, because I understood the movie, all I hear at this point is "But but but Ebert…"

    and "I didnt understand" complaints that amount to:

    "When Poochie's not on screen, everyone should be asking, Where's Poochie?"


  53. ok here goes:

    Miller's Crossing has two things on its mind:

    30's gangster affectations and an intricate double-cross story that intends to resolve itself for the audience, so can we please do away with the notion that this is anything like 2001, this is not intentionally ambiguous for some ponderous meaning, this has a double cross premise that it wants to play out and by the end of the film you should have a clear idea of what happened in the last two hours. Maybe not every detail will you know, but the main beats you should be able to understand…

    I bring Ebert up because he is a respected movie critic who knows more about film then probably all of us. In his review he asks "where the body comes from" and Siskel, who is defending the film, can't even explain it. That is significant, that these people are not able to quantify what they saw, that this massive plot point is not understood by professional reviewers who have probably seen all of the grifter gangster stories this film is emulating. I bring them up because it is easy to call me daft because I am a lowly blogger, and that I must be blind or something, well hello, I am not alone here… how many people do you need to tell you that whether the Coens had ideas they didn't effectively communicate them?

    Gamble's point about the gay story seems even more arbitrary to me, if not worse as a plot point. Now does Bernie say he killed Mink first in the heat of passion and then use the body after the effect (this roll with the punches argument many of you are bringing up)?. Again, never saw that at all, and I am suspecting Kurt never saw it either since he didn't know they were gay in the first place. But let's say thats what he did, and this character who has never shown any instance of forethought in anything he has done now has this clever scheme he wants to do.

    for it to work, as I said before, a lot of convenient things have to happen…

    1) he has to know that some resolution between Tom and Caspar has not already occurred, and in fact, what if anything does he even know of their relationship that he can positively attest to know how either will react?

    2) he has to know that Caspar will find out about no one seeing Tom do the execution and then demand that they go and find the body. and that it is as clear as day, to both Bernie, and to all of us, that the place the execution was to take place was easy to find. Even if they counted mississippis down that endless treelined road to know where to go, why exactly should Tom know where in the woods the body should be, there didn't seem to be much direction in where they were going. He can't say I forget where it is?

    3) If they are going to go to all the trouble to find a body in the woods, I guess assuming the Dane would be in tow as executioner if nothing is there, why on all that is sacred, would you use as the body someone the Dane is intimate with? Why not kill some stranger that look more like Bernie and use him, why tempt the possibility that the Dane will recognize the features of his lover… not to mention that buscemi's stature looks nothing like Turturro who must be a foot taller. He didn't blow off his hair, his ear, his hands, his height, the bagginess of his clothes. Strategically that doesn't make sense to do, and it doesn't make sense to have a gay story involved in this where the Dane could know who the corpse is.

    Now the argument that this films needs to be seen more than once to get… I agree, but only because its poorly communicated not because it is so textured it deserves it. Again what I am talking about are the main plot points, the whole apparatus that the two hours is built on, not like Memento, incidental connecting tissue between narrative pieces told out of order. This is told in order and it makes no sense until someone sits me down and explains it. if I was reading the script sure, I may have noticed the one coded reference to a gay storyline but this is a film that is doing too much at once, improperly pacing its plot points and dazzling you with its 30's cinema know-how.

    Here are the things after watching the film I didn't understand:

    What Tom was doing, whether he had some intricate plan and why he was with Caspar in the first place. Admittedly, the less you engage me and talk over me in Shakespearean like cadences than I am less likely to care the longer it goes on.

    What Verna had to do in the film at all

    What Mink's role was

    Why there was a body and where it came from

    Who killed the guy with the toupee and why was he there and what relevance did it have to anything

    Essentially the whole plot I didn't get. I could fake it as much as the next guy and say yeah there was some double-crossing and Tom was playing both sides… but did I understand it? not at all. Like I said, I am sure its all there in the script, but I don't think it was communicated worth shit. and it wasn't coyly ambiguous, you don't do an intricate two hour double cross story and not allow any of it to be comprehensible.

    Aside from not understanding the film I also do not find it all that interesting, the pacing is dreadful, either too fast or too slow, and the visual style largely did nothing for me. I found too tongue in cheek, just wanting to poke fun at the genre while at the same time trying to play a serious double cross storyline. In otherwords, it felt all over the place.

  54. also you guys are patting yourselves on the back about how great these character triangles are but for them to be great shouldn't they be worthwhile characters?

    I got zero character out of Tom, and Leo for that matter, and Verna, and what is Mink all that interesting? Again I think its about superimposing the notion of clever on something because the schemata looks good irrespective of what the schematas refer to in the film as it is experienced. triangles, how about anything but archetypes twice removed from reality?

  55. come to think of it that is one of my chief problems with the Coens… they tend to craft their films from schematas, themes, appropriated ideas, and then only as afterthought integrate them into a coherent functional story with characters that one can care about.

    There is no character, or heart, or drama, or intrigue in Miller's Crossing, its an exercise. While I enjoy O Brother for what it is, you can see the joints in the film exposed, the pastiche of one element from Homer or depression-era films to the next, the characters just bobbing along meeting up with each conceit after conceit. The saving grace in that is the performances and the comedic wit.

    and it is this twice removed quality that bothers me to. Sure original film noir was less about reality and the human condition than about showing it through a particular filter, but with the Coens its twice removed, its a filter atop a filter, them fetishizing the noir film more so then fetishizing life.

  56. addendum to my "3)" about The Dane being intimate with Mink… Mink also went missing (obviously) and The Dane knows he is missing, so add that to the logic of using that as your replacement corpse.


  57. @rot. A valid complaint. one I certainly do not have.

    "Art is lies that tell a truth"

    "The miracle of Artifice is Miracle enough!"

    "Great Movies are rarely perfect movies"

  58. so then why gripe about the inconsistencies of Terminator Salvation, frankly it is no more no more less qualifies as 'art' than Miller's Crossing, unless we are considering a photograph of previous artworks constituting art.

    No I disagree with you Kurt, the Coens are TRYING to be clever with their story, they do not get off on Proposition Suspension of Disbelief. If anything Terminator has that right more so than Miller's Crossing. If you are going to aim to be clever you better be clever, you better expect everything to make sense and be communicated in a way that the audience is on the caper.

  59. also regarding Primer, I feel it is a flawed film, that there needed to be another fifteen minutes in the story to better communicate particularly the ending, and the character motivations which are left on the wayside (I mean not until I listened to the commentary did I even know there was supposed to be a jealousy component between the two over the one's wife). When I first saw Primer I maybe comprehended 40% of what happened, but the ending accelerates way too fast, the full effect of the final scene is lost because you are still dizzy from the last five revelations. Thats bad pacing, bad communicating of ideas.

    I would never say Primer is a good film because you have to rewatch it, its a good film despite this flaw. Sure there can be things gained from rewatching it, small incidental connecting things, but if the impact of the end is not achieved than something went wrong. I love Primer but I am not blind to its flaws.

  60. Well heck, Rot, it often comes down to the divide of suspension of disbelieve and I find when we cross it it turns into a plethora of nitpicking. I've certainly found many films that I had huge issues originally that I grew to love, and I don't think changing opinion is a bad thing on multiple viewings (at multiple points in your life or film watching experience). I'm not trying to change you on Miller's Crossing, only articulating that there are a myriad of different kinds of pleasures to be had from a film, and Miller's Crossing hits the mark on many of them. I think it even gets at the human condition insofar as Tom does several things (like tell his relationship to Verna to Leo) without knowing exactly why he does so, yet as many circumstances change over the course of the film, he rationalizes it to himself that he still loves Leo even thought they 'are through' – and he can still be loyal without really being good friends. He as much as spells this out in the final conversation of the film.

    "If you are going to aim to be clever you better be clever, you better expect everything to make sense and be communicated in a way that the audience is on the caper."

    Given the nature of general audiences, this is an impossible task. I don't think Miller's Crossing is obtuse after a second or third viewing, it is just a film that requires more than one viewing. There are many of these, and I do not hold marks against the film in that it cannot be easily consumed & digested in a single sitting. I tend to think those are the better films.

    A film like T4 has much bigger problems that Miller's Crossing, And actually it also is 'meta' in the way that it is following the tropes and styles of the previous Terminator Franchise films.

    The Coen's bring in the layer of processing the designs and the (Ins and Outs and Whathaveyous) of the genre. I don't think T4 even knows what it wants, let alone thinks on this level.

  61. well we disagree then. I think the blanket response that

    "I do not hold marks against the film in that it cannot be easily consumed & digested in a single sitting. I tend to think those are the better films."

    is a way to let a lot of shit pass, a la the emperor's new clothes. At some point we need to account for our direct experience of a film and not rely on a supposed future time when things will make sense. If something is convoluted in that it clearly is SUPPOSED to make sense but is not registering, than call it what it is, and don't say well maybe this AMBIGUITY is a virtue.

    Synecdoche New York, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Limits of Control, they are not SUPPOSED to make sense like a very clear puzzle to be worked out with explicit answers, they can genuinely be said to be embracing ambiguity as part of their narrative. But not every film that doesn't make sense on first viewing can be given this pass, you have to look at what they film is doing and saying.

    There is no thematic argument in Miller's Crossing to justify deliberate ambiguity underlying its central double-cross plot. The ambiguity is a result of bad writing and directing.

  62. @rot, "this a way to let a lot of shit pass,"

    I don't disagree as a generalization, But in the context of specifically Miller's Crossing, it passes muster, because your 'the story doesn't make sense or is too clever to understand' is not actually true. It just requires more than one viewing and has the bonus of layers as you watch the film multiple times. What art should be doing!

    People acting on instinct, not necessarily in their best interest vs logical 'angle' or benefit. These are human things that Miller's crossing addresses. Heck even the hats and the common human dignity theme running thru the mix is pretty bloody amazing. So yea, there is.

  63. the story is contrived and poorly communicated but ok, we can truce on this.

    Though I still don't like this argument that art should mandate rewatching, certainly not to get the mechanics of the story understood, that to me is not anything about art, the thematic elements sure, the minutiae of style and performance, okay, but story mechanics, no way, particularly in this case because there is no thematic imperative for this to be deliberately obtuse…

    its like the dupes that admire the 'sophistication of expression' in that 5 year old kid's paintings in 'My Kid could Paint That' overcompensating the importance of the work on the basis of flimsy ideas about art. Sometimes things are obtuse and messy because of poor workmanship, not by design.

    I refuse to believe that the obtuse belaboring of story mechanics in Miller's Crossing is intentional and warranted because of the logic of good art.

    but like I said, truce. 🙂

  64. I recently got this movie on Netflix based soley on a list of “Moves to see”. I hated it the first time I watched it. It was extremely hard to follow and I was completely shocked when he **WARNING SPOILER ALERT** shot Bernie.
    After I watched it and hated it, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I hated it and what didn’t make sense. I now own the movie and cannot stop watching it. Upon a second viewing you start to realize that this isn’t just a tangled mass of entertaining scenes. A lot of things don’t exactly make sense at first, but that is the whole point. “Do you always know why you do things Leo”. The whole point is, you can’t tell if Tom did or did not care about Verna in the end. You have no idea why he did the things he did, but you can guess. Tom either loved Verna and was hoping he could convince Leo to dump her so that he could move in without ruining the friendship. Or, Tom hated Verna the entire time and was simply sleeping with her to prove to Leo and himself that she was no good. Which is why he said goodbye to Leo in the end (Leo told him they were getting married). But the truth is who the hell am I to say. We all have our suspicions.

    • Tom was loyal only to Leo. And the only person he told the truth to was Leo, who beat him up for it. Leo forgave him and even wanted him back because he knew he was honest with him. All of the other characters do nothing but lie to each other at all times — except when Verna told Tom and Tom told Caspar that Bernie was staying at the Royale.

  65. Yeah, I’m on Rot’s side. I tend to like minimal exposition(i.e., Spartan) — but needs to have a small cast. In the case of Miller’s Crossing, there’s just too many bloody characters! Could work in a television show, but not in a 2 hour film.

    I found Primer to be easier to comprehend than this film!

  66. Correct me if I’m wrong Antho, but isn’t English your second language? The stylized slang certainly doesn’t make the film any easier to grasp on first viewing and I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for someone for whom English isn’t their primary language.

  67. Well, maybe. I still think that it has more to do with the unorthodox storyline structure (I echo Ebert’s and Rot’s criticism).

    From the looks of it, even people that love the film miss many key elements (i.e., Kurt on the gay romance)

    I definitely need to re-watch it.

  68. I feel like a complete dunce for not catching that after 3 or 4 views. It’s really obvious.

    One of the great joys of the Coen Brothers films is that there is always something new to notice in them, even after dozens of viewings.

  69. The storyline is told in a fairly straightforward manner (its far less byzantine and contrived than The Big Lebwoski for example), and is remarkably constructed, the issue I can see people having with it is the film doesn’t painstakingly explain every plot point, which is relatively uncommon for a feature film. Add in the general pacing of the film, which is quite breakneck throughout, and you have the recipe for a challenging film to digest in just a single viewing.

    The film doesn’t hand hold at all, and with the dialogue being so off the beaten path it can be difficult to follow. The film requires investment by the viewer, as pretty much every Coen Bros film does, and is one of the things I enjoy most about it.

  70. I feel like a complete dunce for not catching that after 3 or 4 views. It’s really obvious.

    Like I said before, once you know its there its hard to miss. But were talking about an integral plot point conveyed in just a quick dialogue exchange and some knowing glances.

  71. So the Dane doesn’t like you,
    but he wouldn’t cross me.

    We go back.

    Of course there’s always
    that wild card when,
    uh, love is involved.

    I know Mink
    is Eddie Dane’s boy.

    Still, I–
    I don’t make it that way.

    – Then there’s nothing
    to worry about.
    – Yeah.

    One might not pick it up the first time, but it is hard to miss after the first viewing.

  72. And there’s more:

    Hear that, Dane? All business.
    I told you he was a good kid.

    ”Where do we start?”
    All business.

    Well, we can start, for instance,
    with the shmatte.

    Like, where’s the shmatte?
    You could maybe tell us that.

    The Royale, room .
    And you might find Mink with him.

    The hell you say.

    Sure. Bernie and Mink
    are cozy as lice.

    – And it ain’t just business.
    – This guy is lying.

    – Why would I?
    – This guy is wrong.

    This guy is all wrong.
    Mink is clean and this clown
    is a smart guy.

    It’s easy enough to find out,
    ain’t it?

    You find Mink,
    you bring him back here.

    Go to the car.
    I’m gonna send Frankie and
    Tic-Tac with you to the Royale.

    If Bernie’s there,

    Frankie and Tic-Tac’ll
    take care of him.

    And if he’s not there?

    I’ll sit facing the corner
    in a funny hat.

    – Get your little hebe ass
    in the car.

    Come on,you skel.

  73. And, of course, the main “Mink Scene,” right up front which goes by very quickly, but is just packed with info. It’s why we have pause and rewind on DVD players.

    A guy like Bernie?
    A straight shooter like him?

    – I don’t get it, Mink.
    – What’s to get? It’s as plain
    as the nose on your face.

    – I thought you were
    Eddie Dane’s sycophant.
    – Yeah, Tom, that’s right,

    but a guy can have more
    than one friend, can’t he?

    Not that I want the Dane to know
    about it, but the shmatte,
    he’s a right guy, Tommy.

    He’s got a mixed reputation,
    but for a sheeny, he’s got
    a lot of good qualities.

    – What’s goin’ on
    between you and Bernie?
    – Nothin’, Tom.

    We’re just…
    friends, you know, amigos.

    You’re a fickle boy, Mink.

    If Eddie Dane finds out
    that you got another ”amigo”–

    – Well, I don’t peg him
    for the understanding type.
    – Find out?

    And it ends with Mink saying “Jesus, Tom” several times in a panic over the prospect of Tom letting Dane know that Mink is friendly with Bernie on the side.

  74. The two main things that make this great movie tough to understand on first viewing are:

    1) Everyone’s constantly lying to everyone else
    2) The dialog has its own set of jargon and nicknames for everyone, every ethnic group, etc. So when they refer to each person, they use 5 different slang handles to refer to them all in the same scene. It’s a challenge to have that sink in at first, but it’s worthwhile.

    Certainly I pick up on new things each time I see it, and I’ve seen it way more than 10 times. It took about 5 viewings to get all the main plot twists, mostly because of the layers of lying and name-calling.

  75. More about Bernie’s being gay. He says Verna tried to convert him:

    Come on, Tom.
    It’s not like that at all.
    It wasn’t my idea.

    She’ll sleep with anyone.
    You know that.

    She even tried to teach me
    a thing or two about bed artistry.

    Can you believe that?

    My own sister.

    Some crackpot idea about
    saving me from my friends.
    She’s a sick twist, all right.

    – She speaks highly of you.
    – Yeah, well, you stick
    by your family.

    The point is, I can help you
    with your debts if that
    would make us friends.

    My motto is,
    ”A guy can’t have too many.”

  76. I don’t think of Bernie as “gay” so much as Bernie being an opportunist. Whenever the Coens use sex, at least one of the partners almost always has an agenda (to quote Maude Lebowski, “What did you think this was, just fun and games?”) and no more moreso than in Miller’s Crossing.
    Bernie (as well as Verna, [runs in the family]) exploits Mink’s homosexuality to get to Johnny Casper. He certainly doesn’t have any real feelings for Mink (or at least expresses no remorse over his death), and his mentioning that Verna offered to “teach [him] a few things,” at least to me, is meant to suggest that 1) Bernie doesn’t care about anyone other than himself (he actually looks down on his sister’s familial loyalty); 2) The Bernbaums have no qualms using sex (regardless of gender and/or genealogy) for their own gain; and 3) re-emphasizing a theme that runs through the entire film: true loyalty and love can’t be rationalized and has no explanation — it’s just there, but in the world of the film, it’s a weakness to be exploited — however, to what end? (Keep in mind that it’s the villains of Miller’s Crossing — Eddie Dane, Johnny Casper, and even Verna — who most exhibit irrational love and loyalty and, in the end, it’s the thing that ultimately destroys them.)
    Of course there’s more behind the scene, but in the context of Bernie being a homosexual, I (again) think the point of that scene is to emphasize that Bernie’s an opportunist first, and maybe gay second–but first he’s an opportunist. The fact that one scene can say and do so much in itself is, I believe, a credit to the screeenplay, and it’s why (though I feel guilty agreeing with Gamble so often) Miller’s Crossing is one of the best-written entries in the Coen Brothers’ filmography.

  77. Miller’s Crossing so quickly left my mind I do not even grasp the explanations for events, who was what, who said what, what happened where… I am sure it is a masterpiece for lots of people, here especially… to me it is an indulgence that is limp and joyless (or at least I think I felt that, I can’t even remember that anymore)

  78. The key scene w/ Mink & Tom as Tom walks through the busy lobby / casino.

    The spot he’s in, who wouldn’t be! He asked me to ask you to ask Leo to take care of him. You know, put in a good word with Leo. Leo listens to you. Not that Leo wouldn’t help the Shmatte anyway! A guy like Bernie! A square gee like the Shmatte? A straight shooter like him?

    I dont get it, Mink.

    What’s to get? It’s plain as the nose–

    I thought you were Eddie Dane’sycophant.

    Yeah, Tom, that’s right. But a guy can have more than one friend, can’t he? Not thatI’d want the Dane to know about it, but a square gee like the Shmatte? He’s a right guy, Tom! He’s a straight shooter! I know he’s got a mixed reputation, but for a sheeny he’s got a lot of good qualities!

    Tom has reached the foot of a large staircase. He turns to look cautiously at Mink.

    What’s going on between you and Bernie?

    Nothin’, Tom! We’re just friends — you know, amigos?

    He sips on his cigarette and looks nervously around the floor.

    You’re a fickle boy, Mink. If the Dane found out you had another “amigo” — well, I don’t peg him for the understanding type.

    Mink is startled. As Tom walks up the stairs Mink calls after him in a piping voice:

    Find out!? How would he find out? Damnit, Tom, me and you ain’t even been talking! Jesus, Tom, damnit, Jesus!

  79. Miller’s Crossing was one of the few films that didn’t dumb down for the fat wedge of the audience who can’t follow fast paced logical threads.
    I honestly think the people who didn’t like this movie just could not follow it, and their dislike comes from the fact that their ego was bruised.

  80. Your grammar is terrible, by the way.
    This film wasn’t dumbed-down to cater to the fat wedge of idiots who can’t follow complex plots. It seems this film sorts the wheat from the chaff of reviewers too.

  81. Geez, sorry for the delay! Just read yr review.

    I agree and disagree. In fact, I dug yr analysis, and dutifully throw it on the heap of many fine and thoughtful takes on Miller’s Crossing. Now kindly consider mine.

    Not so long ago, I had a flash–one which linked grammar to film, or to the theatrical arts in general. In grammar, there are the twin ideas of “prescriptive” vs. “descriptive” grammar. Most people think of grammar as a prescriptive activity; figuring out and prescribing the “correct” grammar. But the truth of language is that, as long as people can communicate, reasonably free from unintended equivocation, anything goes; within an economic and emotional community. Hence, what has come about is “descriptive” grammar; the study of variations in grammar over relatively near-flung communities.

    Well, you also have “prescriptive” and “descriptive” moralities. And, again, as with grammar, when most folks think of morality, they automatically presume the intent to prescribe. In fact, this attitude afflicts much of what we now think of as “dated” film scenario work.

    Nowadays, when I watch the Coen Brothers, I think of their Jewish upbringing. You wouldn’t think so to listen to fundie fulminations, but the simple fact is that the Old Testament, besides it’s occasional prescriptive tone, is perhaps even moreso an impressive mass of *descriptive* morality. And I feel as though the Coens have picked up on the idea that the interminable nature of the OT stories represents something that perhaps even the rabbis might be loathe to vouchsafe to their flocks–that this descriptive aspect (*not* prescriptive!) reflects the Mind of God.

    And there is something so thick and interminable and interwoven and *descriptive* about Miller’s Crossing, that in the end one looks to that mass of description for the vital clue to the mystery of the heart of a man: Why can Tom “quit” Leo, while still loving him, deeply? The answer, in a sense, may be the same (in character) as the answers to key theological questions posed by convocations of rabbis–or even as posed by theologically unaffiliated types, on those occasions when they confront the affiliated. Questions like, if God “loves” us, why does he treat us so badly; afflicting us with cancer, and suchlike?

    In other words, the process by which one arrives at key insights into the mind of God, through the Torah, is roughly the same process as that by which one arrives at an understanding of the mind of Tom Reagan.

    And (I’d be remiss to overlook), make no mistake that there’s another important comparison of the OT to Miller’s Crossing; the fact that most people have the same first reaction to MC that they have to their first reading of the OT: “What the fuck was *that* about?” It sounds like I’m being flippant, I know. But I’m actually being serious. I think there’s a serious parallel there.

    Anyway, it took me about 3 viewings before I started to understand MC–at least, the way *I* understand such things, given my own relative lack of film knowledge. These are the terms on which I “accept” MC.

  82. Thanks for the comment Ron, damn this thread has got mileage. I have not revisited the film, so my opinions of it still stand, but there is a lot of passion for exegesis coming from all sides. This is damn near Room 237-level minutiae you are getting into, and you may very well be right, and even if you aren’t, that is the beauty of film analysis, the tangents have a life of their own.

  83. Bernie and Mink were fags- no question. As was The Dane. It is very subtle but obvious if you watch it with the subtitles on and view certain conversations.

  84. The plot of Miller’s crossing is largely based on Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key. Not the Bernie-Mink-Dane triangle, but a Tom character who works for a Leo character. pretends to go over to a Caspar character in order to save Leo, and winds up with Leo’s girl.

  85. Reminder that if you click on the header you can check out the whole Dirty Thirties marathon, of which I recently rewatched Untouchables again and that, THAT is a fucking movie.

    • The Untouchables? Tawdry pulp, from soup to nuts. Lots of fun to watch. But I’m afraid you just impeached your criticism of Miller’s Crossing with that tip of the hand

  86. It’s rather funny how a gay theme is very prominent throughout Miller’s Crossing, and yet, it’s frequently overlooked. Once pointed out, however, you wonder how you missed it. Besides the scene between Tom and Mink that’s mentioned above, there is also the one where Tom is talking to Caspar about Eddie Dane and Mink. He says something like, “There’s always that wild card where (raises his brows knowingly) love is involved.” Caspar immediately comes back admitting that he knows that Mink is Eddie’s “boy”. He even says that he, himself, doesn’t go that way. In fact, right in the beginning of the movie, Caspar is telling Leo that Mink is Eddie’s boy. There’s also a moment when Eddie and Tom exchange uneasy stares. As the movie draws to a close, Eddie finds out Mink is dead, blames Tom and goes berserk. This isn’t the reaction of someone who has just lost an “amigo.” No, Eddie has lost his lover and is mad as hell.

    In all, at least three characters are gay: Eddie Dane, Mink, and Bernie. Although Bernie seems to prefer covering up his homosexuality by exchanging sex for favors.

    In real life, of course, Joe Polito who plays Caspar, and J.E. Freeman who plays Eddie Dane, really are openly gay.

  87. Rot, I just think *you* don’t really like the Coen’s oevure in general, so you nit pick on Miller’s Crossing. I happen to think it’s one of their best films, had no trouble following it but have discovered interesting little gems with it on repeated viewings. And so it goes…

  88. I clearly like Miller’s Crossing a great deal more than you do (and am in vociferous disagreement with your affection for that faker Brian DePalma!), and I think one of the problems is that you’re unfamiliar with the novels of Dashiell Hammett, specifically the twice-filmed The Glass Key (the character of Tom Reagan is very much Ned Beaumont) and the officially unfilmed Red Harvest, but heavily appropriated by Kurosawa, Leone and Walter Hill. This wasn’t a pastiche of Hammett, so much as a tribute to the man.

  89. Pffffft. Tom and Verna kill Leo at the end. Duh! There’s not another soul alive that thinks this other than me and yet it seems so obvious. The hat at the beginning is Leo’s hat. The stretch of woods it is blowing down is the same stretch of woods that Leo is walking down at the end of the movie. Why does Verna take the car at the end? Why does Tom tip his hat and give a sinister look? He tips his hat to firstly show that it’s not the same hat as the one in the opening scene and secondly he tips it because he’s about to do something: murder Leo. Seems obvious. Or maybe not………(and if this isn’t the ending then it should be :))

  90. Part of the charm of Miller’s Crossing is that you have to pay attention to understand what is going on in the film, you have to listen to what the characters are saying. If you don’t understand 1920’s American gangster vernacular, social mores (like closested gay characters and how they talk about their relationships), gambling, vice payoffs controlling politics, etc, you will have a difficult time comprehending what is going on in Miller’s Crossing.
    The secretiveness of the relationships between the gay characters and their double crossing by sharing secrets with each other that are supposed to remain confidential is the main pivot the whole film revolves around. From the first scene in Leo’s office where Caspar is complaining about Bernie’s lack of ethics, the undercurrent is, “Who told Bernie about the fix?” And Leo rightly says, “Of course The Dane knows about the fix.” The hiding, cheating, lying of all of the characters having sexual relationships extends from Bernie to Verna to Tom to Leo as well as from Caspar to Dane to Mink to Bernie. That is the entire point of the film, summarized in Tom’s repeated statement, “Nobody knows anybody. Not that well.”

  91. ‘millers crossing’ is not only a great film on its own terms, it’s a great snapshot of one of those pivotal moments in American culture where the present sweeps away the past. the immigrant groups vying for power in the film (irish, italian, jewish) were becoming mainstream Americans by the thirties. plus, the film is a take on the odyssey, with tommy as the fallen hero who has to navigate his way through a sea of perils to redeem himself.

    sorry to add that i ‘got’ the film on first viewing and was fully absorbed by it. i woul posit that many of the folks who had trouble with the plot are young: novels are dense and many early great movies were derived from or adapted from novels. you kid can’t follow a plot because of your inability to mentally retain the threads of multiple stories as they are woven together

  92. Tell ya what sport: when YOU write/produce/direct a movie that surpasses MC, at least in YOUR estimation, I wanna see it, because it must surely be a doozy. I for one count MC in my top 20 favorite films. But then…there’s no accounting for taste.

  93. What a wonderful, interesting, and thoughtful discussion of a movie I have been drawn to since the first day it was shown.

    I’m surprised to find little mention of the film’s cinematography and haunting score. Together they were enormously powerful and were enough, all alone, to excite my interest.

    Add a complex story, interesting characters, fine performances, and unique if sometimes indecipherable dialogue…the result is an intriguing and compelling visual work of art.

    Story and clarity have their place, but in a visual media it’s the images and the emotions they elicit that come first.

    I find this film to be very powerful. I don’t really know why, but I do know that slicing, dicing, and over analyzing plot components and story does not provide satisfying answers.

    I love this film.


Leave a Comment.

Prove you're human... * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.