The third feature film from the Coen brothers, Miller’s Crossing is a hard-boiled neo-noir based on the novels of Dashiell Hammett (Red Harvest, Glass Key) with slick cinematography by director of photography Barry Sonnenfeld.
Set during the Prohibition era, Gabriel Byrne stars as Tom Reagan, the top dog for Irish mob boss Leo (Albert Finney). From the very beginning things are complicated as Tom is involved with Verna (Marcia Gay Harden), Leo’s much younger mistress, behind his back. Further complicating the situation is Verna is the sister of bookie Bernie Bernbaum (John Turturro) that the Italian mobster Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito) and his secondhand man Eddie Dane (J.E. Freeman) want killed because they claim he has been leaking details on Caspar’s leaked fights to gamblers. But Bernie is also paying for protection to Leo, and when Leo finds out about Tom and Verna, it puts him on the outs with both Leo and he goes to work with Johnny Caspar, putting him squarely in the middle of the gangland war and the uneasy role of peacemaker as his loyalties remain squarely with Leo.
The Coen’s give us a tasty bit of neo-noir, even more beholden to the classic film noir style than their sizzling debut Blood Simple, with this outing. From the colorful dialogue (“The two of us Tom, we’re about bad enough to deserve each other”) to the gritty, and almost melodramatic acting. The evocation of the 1930 and 1940s noir classics is nearly flawless without being a merely imitation. This is a modern take on the old genre and at the time (1990) was arguably one of the best neo-noirs to hit the screen since a film like Chinatown or The Long Goodbye.
Yes, this Criterion release of Miller’s Crossing is a filmmaker approved restoration done in 2K from the original 35mm camera negative and supervised by the original director of photography Barry Sonnenfeld. The issue is this is the same transfer from the 2011 Fox Blu-ray release, which accounts for why it is only a 2K restoration and why it doesn’t quite look up to the standards of a new restoration. While this isn’t bad by any means. The deep focus shots have a hint of softness that could use a little more high frequency information from a new 4K restoration. The the grain structure looks good, but one can’t help but feel this would look a little crisper, a little more sharper-edged, if this were a newer 4K restoration.
This comes with a new 2021 5.1 remix in DTS-HD Master Audio that is good for this film. It hasn’t been overdone. The surrounds carry a good bit of atmospheric foley effects and there’s a fine balance to the mix. The dialogue is clean and the Celtic-inspired score sounds sweeping and natural.
The real treat for this new release from Criterion Collection are the all-new extras included on disc and the essay. There are four new interviews with the cast and crew plus about 14 minutes of archival interviews.
- Hard-Boiled: The Coen Brothers and Megan Abbott (1080p; 00:28:44) – In this conversation, recorded for the Criterion Collection in fall 2021, author Megan Abbott discusses noir fiction and movies with filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen.
- The Actors (1080p; 00:32:23) – This interview with actors Gabriel Byrne and John Turturro was conducted by author Megan Abbott in 2021.
- The Music (1080p; 00:16:41) – This interview with composer Carter Burwell and music editor Todd Kasow was conducted by the Criterion Collection in 2021.
- The Look (1080p; 00:15:12) – This interview with director of photography Barry Sonnenfeld was conducted by the Criterion Collection in 2021.
- The Design (1080p; 00:10:02) – This interview with production designer Dennis Gassner was conducted by the Criterion Collection in 2021.
- From the Archives (1080i; 00:13:49) – These interviews with actors Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, John Turturro, and Jon Polito were conducted in 1990 after shooting wrapped on Miller’s Crossing, as promotion for the film’s theatrical release.
- Essay by Film Critic Glenn Kenny
The Final Assessment
A fantastic neo-noir of tangled relationships, backstabbing gangsters, salacious affairs, and pulpy dialogue with gorgeous set designs and cinematography in a Criterion Collection release with a strong selection of new interviews. Despite being a nine-year-old restoration, this release is still satisfying and worth owning for the extras and new 5.1 audio mix, especially if you don’t already own the previous 2011 Blu-ray release from Fox.
Miller’s Crossing is out on Blu-ray 8 February 2022 from the Criterion Collection
- Rating Certificate: R
- Studios & Distributors: Circle Films | Twentieth Century Fox | The Criterion Collection
- Directors: Joel Coen | Ethan Coen
- Written By: Joel Coen | Ethan Coen | Dashiell Hammett (novels)
- Run Time: 113 Mins.
- 8 February 2022
- Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
- Video Format: AVC 1080p
- Primary Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
- Subtitles: English SDH