Miller's Crossing (1990; directed by Joel Coen)

Endlessly quotable, gorgeously shot and totally entertaining, this is my favorite Coen Brother film. Albert Finney plays Leo, the boss of an eastern city during Prohibition, and he gets into a war with another mobster (Johnny Casper, played by John Polito) against the advice of his loyal advisor Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne). So, since Leo won't listen to him, Tom picks a fight with him and joins the other side, only in order to defeat Casper and protect Leo. There are the usual great Coen set-pieces (the "Danny Boy" sequence, Tom showing his loyalty to his new boss by killing bookie Bernie (John Turturro) out in the woods at Miller's Crossing), but the whole movie is a seamless whole.

The cast is perfect. Albert Finney is a blunt and direct mob boss, and John Polito is a nitwit, alternatively oily and apoplectic, but (besides Byrne) the standouts are Marcia Gay Harden, as Verna, the woman who comes between Tom and Leo, and J.E. Freeman as Eddie Dane, Johnny Casper's lieutenant. He towers over everyone else in the movie (when he breaks into Verna's apartment, he has to tilt his head so he doesn't bump the ceiling light), but he's also smarter than most of them, the same blend of intelligence and menace that he brought to "Alien Resurrection."

However, Tom Reagan may not be a strongman (everybody in the movie gets to knock him around at some point, men and women alike), but he's just a little bit smarter that anybody else.

Also Recommended:

With Albert Finney: Erin Brockovich

With J.E. Freeman: Alien Resurrection, Go


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