Page 8 - The Michigan Daily -- Tuesday, October 23, 1990
This' is not a 'gangster film'
dir. Joel Coen
by Tony Silber
The label "gangster film" does in-
justice to this crime saga. Miller's
Crossing emerges as an incredibly
innovative addition to that genre, so
different from the norm, so bold and
spellbinding that it calls attention to
the restrictions of classification. The
clue should have been that the Co-
ens, Joel and Ethan, who gave us
Raising Arizona are certainly no
prisoners of conventionality, but
this seemed quite an undertaking,
even for them.
The gangster/crime saga genre
has evolved in amazing ways since
The Godfather (1972) and that film
is now correctly viewed as the epit-
ome of excellence in that storyline.
Once Upon a Time in America
(1984) and GoodFellas (1990) have
taken gangsters to newer and more
ingenious levels of filmmaking, but
Miller's Crossing, for loss of better
words, is something completely
This film is an extraordinarily
penetrating character study of Tom
(Gabriel Byrne), the calculating Irish
gangster who knows "all the an-
gles." Serving as the brain trust for
the city crime boss, Leo (Albert
Finney), he is an advisor whose
words are to be considered seriously.
The plot focuses on the conflict
between Leo and Italian crime boss
Caspar (Jon Polito) involving Bernie
Bernbaum, the Jewish double-dealer
who pulls a fast one on Caspar.
When Leo refuses to kill Bernie for
his Italian rival, a gang war ensues
with Tom caught uncomfortably in
the middle of the battle.
But Miller's Crossing is not an
action film; it's not even close.
There is no abundance of gangland
killings, shootouts, car chases or
stereotypical hit men. Instead, the
Coens give us a cinematic feast of
rich characters in perplexing, con-
frontational situations without
falling into the habit of making the
story more sensational than the
players. In one scene, when Caspar's
son whines about something, Caspar
whacks the fat boy with a left cross,
turns to Tom and says, "You gotta
be firm with kids."
The nameless city in Miller's
Crossing becomes a gang-war zone
where the Irish faction under Leo
fights the Italians under Caspar.
Tom, believing Leo has made an er-
ror in letting Bernie live, switches
over to Caspar's camp. The two are
further alienated after Leo discovers
Tom has had an affair with his fi-
ancde, Verna (Marcia Gay Harden),
the "tough dame" who holds her own
with the roughest of scum she en-
When Tom joins with Caspar, he
must prove his loyalty by killing
Bernie. The boss advises, "Always
put one in the brain." The two are
driven out to a dirt road in the woods
called Miller's Crossing where the
gangster Tom must face the reality
of using a gun for the first time in
his life. The ensuing scene is noth-
ing short of extraordinary. But ex-
traordinary performances are not
unique in this film, they are the rule.
Much credit goes to the Coens,
however, whose sharp-tongued,
lightning-quick, verbally lethal
screenplay gives these actors such
All of the action of Miller's
Crossing, though, is of secondary
importance because this film be-
longs to Tom. Departing from the
traditional view of the gangster with
the long overcoat, dipped hat, myste-
rious dweller of the dark, Tom is a
psychological warrior. His weapons
are words, surely as deadly a force as
a Colt 45. He plays Leo against
While standing in the rain, Verna (Marcia Gay Harden) expresses her love for Tom (Gabriel Byrne) but fears
that he may have killed her brother in Joel and Ethan Coen's innovative addition to the gangster film genre,
Miller's Crossing. 0
Caspar, Caspar against Leo, Verna
against Leo, and Bernie against Cas-
par. Tom is a double-crossing double
agent with mixed loyalties, always
calm in the heat of the war surround-
But for those expecting a '30s
gore fest, Miller's Crossing will
not suffice. This is a completely
new kind of gangster film, one
where the immensely talented play-
ers utilize the resources of a tantaliz-
ing script to create a wonderful
movie. There are enough twists,
turns, and collisions in this story to
keep the film-lover captivated well
after the final scene.
MILLER'S CROSSING is showing
Continued from page 7
"Respect Mother Earth and her giv-
ing ways/ or trade away our chil-
dren's days" ("Look at Mother Na-
ture on the run/ in the 20th Century"
(live version of "After the Gold
Rush")). "Love and only love/ will
break it down" (can you say "Only
Love Can Break Your Heart"? I
thought you could).
Nor will the soothing combina-
tion of distorted rhythm guitar, hyp-
notically plodding bass and drums,
and gently sustained lead guitar notes
sound anything but familiar. The
two 10 minute-plus songs bring to
mind "Like A Hurricane" and should
provide an even better vehicle for
power quartet jamming on stage than
they do on album.
Of course some people could slag
this as just another "old spud" cash-
ing in on rehashes of greatest hits,
but something intangible suggests
to me that Neil had a good time
making this record, and as long as he
enjoys himself I hope he keeps mak-
ing any kind of records he wants.
Continued from page 7
memories and blowing them up into
glory days and grand statements that
go beyond credibility.
But the film's best scene recalls
some of Diner's lack of pretension.
With no relation to Avalon's story,
we see the six-year-old Michael be-
ing attacked by a swarm of bees.
Shown from Michael's point of
view, we feel the terror that he feels
and are able to relate to that kind of
traumatic childhood experience.
Small, everyday dramas like these
are all but lost in Avalon's preten-
Though the basic idea is flawed,
the execution is expert. Oscar nomi-
nees in music (Randy Newman),
production design (Norman
Reynolds), cinematography (Allen
Daviau) and other technical fields
join Levinson in creating the warm
beauty of 1914 and the authentic feel
of the '50s.
The ensemble cast is convincing
as well, including Armin Mueller-
Stahl (Music Box) as the old grand-
father, Sam. His son Jules, played
by Aidan Quinn (The Handmaid's
Tale), is a fine actor who desperately
needs a good starring role.
AVALON is showing at Briarwood
NTH E SPOTLIGHT
Writers and poets, take note:
1941 University graduate and Hop-
wood winner Charles Miller will be
in the Michigan Union Pendleton
Room today at 4 p.m. to speak on
Hopwood winners and losers.
Though he has never held a salaried0
job, Miller has been published in the
New York Times, the'Michigan
Quarterly Review, and "many little
rags." His latest book, Auden: An
American Friendship, is an inti-
mate memoir on poet and life-long
friend, W.H. Audon.
OPEN WIDE !
Continued from page 7
beehive and cat glasses, not a look
adopted by many Shakespearean
heroines. The constant flurry of
color is a delight to watch. All of
this comes to a logical, western
genre conclusion. The happy couple
walks into the sunset. I was waiting
for "Happy Trails" to sing out from
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
is a technicolor production. Romeo
and Juliet in comparison, seemed
black and white. The set and cos-
tumes were shades of grey and al-
though the acting is nearly flawless,
I couldn't help thinking about the
great time I'd had the night before
under the "big top" of The Two
Gents.. Maybe if I had seen Romeo
and Juliet first I would have appre-
ciated it more. Its like watching The
Wizard of Oz. The Emerald City is
so exciting and green, and it's al-
ways a pity to have to go back to
black and white Kansas and the com-
fort of Auntie Em.
It's For You!
8:30 - 2:30 PM
Need the hot news fast?
Find it in the Daily.
Assistant Director's Training Program
Elizabeth Stanley visits to talk about the
Assistant Director's Training Program (sponsored by
the Director's Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion
Picture and Television Producers). The program offers paid
apprenticeships in actual film and television productions
to college graduates. All are welcome...please join us.
Wednesday, October 24
4:00 - 6:00 pm
Aigell Hall Auditorium D
Join us any Tuesday this Fall,
3:30 to 4:30, in the
7th Floor Lounge of Haven Hall
The Students and faclty of
School of Denistrywllhost
A Custom made mouthguard
will be fabicated free of charge
(occasionally a mouthguard
cannot be made because of
indivdual mouth shapes. Everyone
will be screened, and advised as
to whether or not one can be
fabricated for them)
Al ages are welcome
Parkg Is available I the Fletcher St.
The Unversity of Michigan
School of Dentistry
North Unt~ersity Ave.
Ann Arbor. MichIoan 48104
Located on the corner of N. University
and Fletcher St.
Puic may enter thiolj1 the mah
entrance offNorthUrd versity, or the
entrance off Fletcher St.
We've got your number
University of Michigan
Student Telephone Directory.
FREE OF CHARGE
(TO STUDENTS ONLY-
Must show student I.D.)
watch the Daily for distribution dates
Corner of State St. and North University
Corner of South University and East University
N. Campus Commons Bus Stop
Front of the Union
VUn versily Direcbories®
University of Michigan
Information Session/Career Fair Expo
October 23, 1990
October 23, 1990
October 25, 1990
* Claims Representatives
* Employee Benefits Representatives
* Connections Associates
" Underwriters - Commercial Division