Archive for December, 2009

Miller’s Crossing

Posted in Review on December 13, 2009 by vegabro

Miller’s Crossing always left me confused by it’s ending. I saw no reason, if Tom did betray Leo simply as an act to orchestrate a play to eliminate Johnny Casper, why he refused to come back to work for Leo. To answer this, I went back to the beginning of the film where the Coen brothers chose to start their groundbreaking gangster movie in such remarkable similarity to the opening to that of The Godfather. Both scenes slowly revealing a mobster’s office with a meticulously long zoom-out, where a man is begging a mob boss to assert their power a friendly way. The reason the Coen’s did this is because, in their balls of gall, have thusly decided to embark on deconstructing the greatest film of all time, who’s themes lie as primer to understanding the end of their own movie.

Business vs. Personal. We all know it. In that question is where the foundation of The Godfather lies. Had Bonasera had tea with Don Corleone, those who had beat and raped his daughter would be suffering as they spoke. The Godfather struggles with this question for almost 3 hours and where does it end up? With Michael Corleone’s business associates shutting his wife out of his office after quite unconvincingly lying to her about the people he killed for the attacks on his family. I always read this as Michael’s way of telling Kay that he did kill those people, but she wasn’t to ever speak about it as that was the last time he would allow her to ask about his business. He has obviously decided to keep his business far from his personal life.

Now back to that first scene of Miller’s Crossing. There is an Italian, Johnny Casper, pleading to an Irishman. The Coen’s start their long zoom not as Coppola did on an Italian, but on the Irishman. Just as The Godfather is about Italian mafia, Miller’s Crossing is about the Irish mafia and just as Coppola caricatured the Irish with the brute Captain McClusky and gave the Corleone’s a soul, the Coen’s caricatured the hotheaded impulsive Italians and gave the Irish a heart. And although these disparate cultures share a similar language, each develops a certain flair within how it is spoken. For instance, one culture may say Business vs. Personal and another may say Angles vs. Heart.

“Don’t you have a heart!?”, “You know all the angles” Throughout Miller’s Crossing, Tom struggles to find a middle ground between these two antithetical concepts much how Michael did in The Godfather. Leo always said to Tom, “you know all the angles”. He said it to Tom as he disagreed with him about whether to kill Bernie Burnbaum. Tom said kill him so’s they don’t start a war with the Italians, but Leo didn’t want to. Tom finds out later it’s because Leo is in love with Bernie’s sister and he can’t kill him. It doesn’t even matter that she’s playing Leo, he loves her anyway. Leo has a heart that’s bigger than his brain.

We know Leo is all heart. But what is Tom? Two encounters with Bernie really sum up the essence of Tom’s struggle. The first is the titular scene at Miller’s Crossing where Tom must decide if he could kill Bernie to get in with Johnny Casper rendering him heartless, or let him go and lose the angle. In that moment Bernie convinces Tom of his heart and Tom lets him go free if he doesn’t come back. The next encounter ends up very different. Bernie decides to come back because he feels like he can play the angles on Tom by blackmailing him over the fact that he is alive. In this moment near the end of the film, after all Tom has been through, he pulls his gun out and aims it at Bernie. Bernie goes into the same cowering and crying that he did at Miller’s Crossing and screamed out the line that hit Tom so deep then when he let him go “Don’t you have a heart!?” to which Tom replies now with an empty expression and empty chamber “What heart?”.

So why does Tom leave Leo? Because Tom understands that he knows all the angles and that Leo has all the heart, but heart and angles shall never go hand in hand.

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