'DANNY BOY' SEQUENCE IS "SINGLE GREATEST BRIAN DE PALMA WIND-UP THAT DE PALMA NEVER DIRECTED"
Today at Esquire, Chris Nashawaty's essay celebrates his favorite Coen Brothers movie, Miller's Crossing. "Released on this day in 1990," Nashawaty writes, "Miller’s Crossing is probably the Coens’ least celebrated masterpiece. The only movie in their top tier that doesn’t get enough love. I’m not sure that I know why that is, but if I had to venture a guess, I’d say that it’s probably because its plot is too dense and Byzantine, its tough-guy and double-dealing dame patter is too rat-a-tat fast to stick, and the performances are too layered and subtle to fully register until you’ve watched it three or four times. Actually, I can’t think of another film from a major Hollywood studio over the past 30 years that asks more from its audience—yet rewards them with so much for their efforts."
Deeper into the essay, Nashawaty digs into a couple of the film's key moments:
The opening scene of the film is so directly borrowed from Francis Coppola’s The Godfather that it goes beyond homage into outright theft. An immigrant visits a mob boss, hat in hand, asking for a favor. But before you can press charges, the Coens deliver the film’s now-iconic image as the opening credits appear—that black hat blowing in the wind like an ominous reverie that eludes the dreamer’s grasp. Carter Burwell’s score turns the image into pure undiluted poetry. There’s a reason why the very same theme was repurposed to sell the trailer for The Shawshank Redemption a four years later.
But what, you may ask, makes Miller’s Crossing better than Fargo or The Big Lebowski or No Country For Old Men or Inside Llewyn Davis? Of course, these things are all subjective. But I can’t think of another Coen brothers film with as much sheer ambition. It dares to turn a pair of traditionally streamlined genres (film noir, gangster pictures) into something so convoluted it borders on the Baroque. This isn’t a movie where characters double-cross one another, they triple- and quadruple-cross one another until your head starts to hurt. Tamping down the visual pyrotechnics of Raising Arizona, Sonnenfeld gives the film an almost-stately sepia period palette. His technique in the film’s greatest sequence, where Finney’s Leo unleashes tommy-gun justice on a pair of assassins sent to kill him while he’s at home lying in bed in his silk bathrobe listening to “Danny Boy” on the phonograph, is the single greatest Brian De Palma wind-up that De Palma never directed. Almost every actor in the film gives the best performance of their career in Miller’s Crossing, especially Turturro, Polito, and Harden, whose incestuous, “sick twist” Verna bristles with the sort of ferocious, tough-talking fatalism that would have put Gloria Grahame, Barbara Stanwyck, and Lauren Bacall out of work had the film been made in the ‘40s.