When I’ve raised Hell you’ll know it!
Probably my favorite line from Miller’s Crossing, the underrated Coen Brothers classic that was just released on Blu-ray this week. The line, uttered by Gabriel Byrne’s Tom Reagan, is just one of the many great lines of dialogue in this swift, punchy tale of an unnamed Prohibition-era American city. I’m not just saying this to be a difficult, attention-grabbing iconoclast; Miller’s Crossing is my favorite Coen Brothers movie. It has some of the best dialogue they’ve ever written and my favorite Carter Burwell/Coen Brothers score. Simply put, it’s the story of a man who just wants to get his hat back.
The Coen Brothers are clearly fans of the great detective novels of Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The Big Lebowski is loosely based on Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep while Miller’s Crossing is loosely based on Hammett novels like The Glass Key and Red Harvest, which were eventually adapted into movies like Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars. The theme of one man pitting warring factions against each other for his own gain is even mentioned by the brother shamus in The Big Lebowski.
The only glaring problem with Miller’s Crossing was that it really didn’t look good on VHS or even DVD. It looked old, really old. But that has been corrected with a great Blu-ray transfer and finally a 5.1 audio track. The score sounds Irishly epic and you can really hear the trees knocking and creaking in the scenes at Miller’s Crossing. The only negative (if you can call it that) for this movie is that Barry Sonnenfeld did the cinematography. It was the last time he worked with the Coen Brothers, who used Roger Deakins for every one of their movies after this including Fargo, No Country for Old Men and True Grit, which had such great cinematography that Steve even said he noticed it. Sonnenfeld had worked on their first two movies so I’m sure they stuck with him for that reason. While he’s a fine cinematographer in his own right Miller’s Crossing doesn’t have the same look as the more recent Coen Brothers classics.
I highly recommend checking this movie out if you haven’t seen it, or revisiting it on Blu-ray if you already have. It’s both dramatic and funny, steeped in period atmosphere (one blogger even called it the skeleton in Boardwalk Empire’s closet) and features one of those epic movie scores that sticks in your head.