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MILLER'S CROSSING
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, John Turturro, Jon Polito, J.E. Freeman, Albert Finney
Director: Joel Coen
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 115 Minutes
Release Date: August 30, 2011

ďLook in your heart!Ē

ďWhat heart?Ē

Film ****

1990 gave us two masterpieces about the gangster underworld, Martin Scorseseís GoodFellas and the Coen Brothersí Millerís Crossing.

I always knew that the moviemaking team of brothers Joel and Ethan Coen carried with them a certain level of genius, especially in the realm of dark comedies. However, nothing couldíve ever prepared me for the much more serious-toned Millerís Crossing, which is indeed one of their greatest films to date, alongside their brilliant 1996 piece, Fargo. What is so captivating about watching this film, especially if youíre a fan of the gangster genre, is the original visionary style that the Coen Brothers has given to create the brooding atmosphere of the gangster underworld during the time of prohibition. Another stroke of genius is the individually memorable characters in this piece, who arenít entirely likeable, but are a good deal sympathetic in some regards. There are also vicious characters in the story, and if you know the Coen Brothers, you know that you will see these kinds of people in the darkest possible light.

The film centers on an ongoing war of power between two rival gangs in 1929, one Irish and one Italian, and depicts the level of loyalty that is stretched to great length by a central character. The boss of the town is Leo (Albert Finney), who has long fought a bitter battle to keep rival hood Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito) from muscling in on his turf. Although Caspar is desperate to take over the rackets which Leo controls, he believes highly in ethics of business, and therefore doesnít stoop to incidents of unnecessary bloodshed, though if we were ever driven to do such, heíd have his murderous enforcer, The Dane (J.E. Freeman), to apply such pressure.

Right in the middle of the war is Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne), Leoís longtime right hand man and associate. Tom is always there to negotiate or settle terms on Leoís behalf, but he is in the middle of a major predicament, which is being engaged in a love affair with Verna (Marcia Gay Harden), the same woman who Leo himself is in love with. Matters are also tense for Tom as he is frequently having to deal with Vernaís brother, Bernie (John Turturro), a weasel bookie who is cheating Tom right under his nose. He would gladly wipe out Bernie in a second, if it werenít for the love he has for his sister.

Rather than a routine movie where two gangs dual it out endlessly, Millerís Crossing is essentially a character piece, focusing mostly on that of Tom. After a sudden and brutal falling out with Leo, Tom finds himself switching sides to Casparís crew, even though The Dane doesnít trust him for a second. Tom has never killed anybody in his life, and once working for Caspar, heís put to the test when ordered to wipe out a victim at Millerís Crossing, an area in the woods where all mob killings are enforced. Itís really Tomís story, and a journey of the character to see if he has heart, or if he is no different than a natural killer for business.

Having seen the Coensí Blood Simple and Fargo, I find them to be something of pioneers in terms of movie violence, but the violence in Millerís Crossing is probably as up close and graphic as anything theyíve done. A rule in this movie addressed by both of the gangs is when you kill someone, shoot them in the head first, and trust me, they arenít lying. Such sequences in the film had my lower jaw nearly hitting the floor. It just goes to show you that the Coen Brothers are all about startling originality, and the violence in this film is unlike any of what I have seen before.

The performances in Millerís Crossing are of pure masterworks, as displayed in any Coen Brothers film. Gabriel Byrne is remarkable in his best screen performance prior to The Usual Suspects as Tom. John Turturro, a Coen Brothers regular, is on fire as the despicable Bernie. He has a scene in the woods of Millerís Crossing, where he pleads heavily not to be killed, which is a scene of dynamite acting. There are also small pop-ups from such other Coen regulars as Steve Buscemi and Frances McDormand.

Bottom line, this is a brilliant and beautiful film by one of our most original filmmaking teams. Millerís Crossing is by far one the Coen Brothersí most outstanding films, and it deserves to be seen by any fan of theirs, as well as revisited by those who admire this film as much as I do.

Video ****

I can't sum it up any better: if you have Blu-ray access and own the original DVD, do away with it and go for the upgrade! Of all the films the Coens have made, this is by far their most lavish production and through the sheer beauty of the 1080p, it looks even more rich and fantastic than ever before! There's definitely a bigger presence of detail and image clarity this time around, and it lingers through the entire 115 minutes of this feature. The darkened interior set pieces, which still carry a moody quality, look nothing short of outstanding here. But anyone who's a fan of this film knows that the key scenes take place in the woodland setting of Miller's Crossing, and these sequences look twice as breathtaking! A splendid production has been done justice with a flat out stupendous HD transfer!

Audio ***1/2

I couldn't wait to hear this film in a newly established DTS HD mix for two specific reasons; the sequences involving tommy guns and Carter Burwell's magnificent score. And sure enough, both elements sound more explosive and beautiful as could ever be heard. In addition, the time period is brought to vivid life in this searing presentation. Between the sound of the cars driven at the time, the music of the era, and those roaring Tommy guns, every aural detail has been amplified to the point that you can't help but be engulfed in the world this film creates. Dialogue delivery, of course, is handled with pure excellence.

Features **

All extras have been ported over from the original DVD release, including a terrific interview session with cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld recounting his experience working on the film and his relationship with the Coens, as well as interview sound bites with Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden and John Turturro, a still gallery and Theatrical Trailers for both this and Raising Arizona.

Summary:

The wait for Miller's Crossing to hit Blu-ray was just as highly anticipated as it was for it's initial DVD release seven years ago, and I, for one, am flat out awestruck by the result. This remains one of the Coen Brothers' most accomplished masterpieces of cinema, and it deserves to be experienced and cherished on the Blu-ray format for years to come!

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