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Loosely based off of Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key, Miller's Crossing is a 1990 darkly comic neo-noir gangster film directed by Joel and Ethan Coen and starring Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, Marcia Gay Harden, John Turturro, Jon Polito, and J.E. Freeman.

Set in 1929 in an unnamed Eastern metropolis , it's the story of Tom Reagan, The Dragon for Irish-American mob boss Liam "Leo" O'Bannon. When Leo falls for Femme Fatale Verna Bernbaum (who happens to also be sleeping with Tom), he ends up protecting her beloved brother Bernie, setting off a mob war - with Tom caught right in the middle.

The film is something of a dark horse in the Coen Brothers oeuvre. Despite lacking a massive cult following or any Academy Awards, it remainds one of the duo's most critically acclaimed pieces.


This film contains examples of:

  • Anti-Hero: Tom is a Type IV for he is a criminal and a deadbeat gambler who sleeps with his boss's girlfriend and backstabs his way through the film. However, he really does care for both Leo and Verna. All his plotting is for their benefit.
  • The Alcoholic: Tom
  • Affably Evil Loan Sharks: Lazarre, whose stooges feel free to rough up the right-hand man of the city boss, but only a little bit, and not breaking anything. They know Tom personally, they're sorry about doing what needs to be done, and advise Tom to stop borrowing so much when he's already in debt.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Leo.
  • Awesome but Impractical: How many bullets did Leo unload into that one guy?
  • Badass: The Dane. He is more or less the strongest and most feared enforcer in the city, he wields a Cool Webley Mk VI and he absolutely beats the living manshit out of a professional prizefighter.
    • Note that the main protagonist, Tom, is a rather comical subversion. He repeatedly gets his ass kicked, and only commits one act of violence that actually accomplishes anything.
  • Badass Grandpa: Leo. "The old man's still an artist with a Thompson."
  • Badass in a Nice Suit
  • Batman Gambit: Tom is a master at this.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Tom (played by the Gabriel Byrne) is a rare male example of this trope - no matter how many beatings he takes, he never gets anything worse than a split lip.
  • Berserk Button: Johnny Casper is sick of "the high hat" and there's nothing he can't stand more than "a double-cross artist."
  • Bittersweet Ending: Tom succeeds in killing Leo's rivals, but winds up alienated from both Leo and Verna, who enter into a foolish marriage.
  • Black Comedy
  • Boom! Headshot!: The Mafia frequently mentions shooting a person "in the brain" and it is how Mink, Bernie, and the Dane all die.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Leo fires a few thousand rounds from a Tommy gun without reloading.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Bernie claims that Verna once tried to "cure" Bernie's homosexuality herself, though his word is less than trustworthy.
  • Bury Your Gays: Bernie, the Dane, and Mink are all dead before the credits roll, although they're not the only casualties.
  • The Cameo:
    • In addition to the Sam Raimi example below, frequent Coens collaborator (and wife of Joel) Frances McDormand appears as the Mayor's secretary.
    • Steve Buscemi and John Turturro also show up.
  • Catch Phrase: Tom's "I'll think about it", which he says whenever he has no intention of doing what's been asked of him. Casper is smart enough to realise this, and so has his thugs beat Tom up when he tries the line on him.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Jon Polito (Johnny Caspar) and John Turturro (Bernie Bernbaum) must have been picking scenery out of their teeth for weeks.
  • Chiaroscuro: Used in many scenes. It is a Film Noir, after all.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Most of the cast, but especially Bernie.
  • The Consigliere: Tom to Leo but then he becomes a Treacherous Advisor to Johnny.
  • Couldn't Find a Lighter: Leo re-lights his cigar off a smoking tommygun after killing the would-be assassins who brought it.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Tom and Verna, who engage in some classic noir reparte. Also Eddie, who doesn't seem to like when others does it.
  • Death by Cameo: Sam Raimi, the trigger-happy gangster with the Guns Akimbo
  • Delusions of Eloquence: Johnny Caspar talks like this a lot.
  • Depraved Homosexual: Played around with quite a bit, most likely due to the trope's frequency in Film Noir. Two of the three main antagonists, Bernie and Eddie Dane, are gay. Depending on how you look at it, they could be considered straight examples or aversions - Bernie's sexuality is never really connected with his villainy, while Eddie Dane is loyal to his employer and Mink. Not to mention that the rest of the cast is also pretty villainous, including the hero.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Tom
  • Dirty Coward: Bernie Bernbaum
  • The Don: Leo for The Irish Mob and Johnny Casper for The Mafia
  • The Dragon: Eddie Dane, to Johnny Caspar.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come
  • Dueling Movies: Goodfellas, The Godfather III, and State Of Grace were all released around the same time.
  • Fake American: Englishman Albert Finney plays the Irish-American Liam "Leo" O'Bannon.
  • Faking the Dead
  • Femme Fatale: Verna, subverted. While plenty of people die because of her, she's not directly responsible for any of them, even the one Tom blamed her for. She's the only person in the movie who genuinely doesn't want anyone to die, but her affair with Tom and her love for her brother get everyone else killed. She's a Femme Fatale despite her best efforts.
    • Actually, this one is kind of double-subverted, in that the character who plays the Femme Fatale character type much more closely is not even a woman...it's Verna's brother, Bernie (maybe an alternate definition for "femme")
  • Film Noir
  • Foe Yay: Eddie Dane towards Tom Reagan. Actually, pretty much all of the sexual tension in the movie qualifies as Foe Yay due to the fact that almost everyone in the movie is pitted against everyone else.
  • Gambit Pileup
  • Gangsterland: A somewhat literal example in that the entire town consists of nothing but criminals.
  • Gayngster: Bernie, the Dane, and Mink. J.E. Freeman, who plays the Dane, is gay himself.
  • Greed: Bernie's motivation for just about everything.
  • Greedy Jew: As mentioned above under Greed, Bernie is greedy and he is called Jewish slurs many times throughout the movie.
  • Guile Hero: Well, anti-hero at any rate. Tom may be brilliant, but he doesn't have much choice -- he's a lousy fighter.
  • Guns Akimbo: Sam Raimi in a cameo.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Eddie Dane
  • Ho Yay: Tons on it. Notably, a lot of Tom and Leo's dialogue makes them sound like a couple, and the Tom/Verna/Leo Love Triangle is arguably more about Tom and Verna competing for Leo's attention than Tom and Leo competing for Verna's. And then there's Bernie/Mink and Eddie Dane/Mink, but those are more text than Subtext.
  • Hypocritical Humor: The local police chief affably chats up Tom both times. Once when his cops are helping the Irish mob take out members of the Italians, and again when the power shifts to the Italians and the cops take out the Irish mob instead.
    • Also when Tom hits the Giant Mook who's about to beat him up across the face with a chair, the latter says plaintively "Jesus, Tom!" like his feelings rather than his face have been hurt.
  • Idiot Ball: Frankie and Tic-Tac are given orders to make sure Tom kills Bernie. So what do they do? They stand by the car and wait while Tom walks Bernie into the woods. Alone. This is later lampshaded by the Dane, who beats them both up for being stupid and goes to check for a body.
  • Kick the Dog: The movie's full of them. Leo delights in screwing with Johnny just because he can (he claims it's to protect Verna, but the sheer joy in his voice after says otherwise). Bernie does it when he kills his boyfriend to cover his own death. The king of it all, though, is Tom, when he kills Bernie. At that point, Leo's solidly in power once more, and both Tom and Bernie are safe, and Bernie no longer represents any threat to Tom. Even the death of Johnny Caspar right outside Tom's apartment is meaningless, since Leo can take care of the police. Tom's previously shown not to hold grudges with his bookie's muscle, and kills Bernie without a hint of passion, so it's not revenge. Tom kills Bernie simply because he doesn't like the little weasel. Of course, this backfires for him, unless he'd made peace with the fact he wasn't going to end up with Verna, because it's obvious at the end that she knows.
  • Large Ham: Johnny Caspar.

 Caspar: "Just like I tell all my boys...ALWAYS PUT ONE IN THE BRAAAAAAIIIINN!"

  I am gonna to send you to a deep, dark place, and I am gonna have fun...doing it!

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