Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Miller's Crossing Crosses the Genre

Miller’s Crossing is a Coen brother film made in 1990. It is a gangster film that focuses on the protagonist, Tom Reagan’s machinations and his rise and fall in the world of gangster.

Similar to Scarface, the classic Hollywood gangster film, Miller’s Crossing depicted the internal conflicts within the gangs. It carries the usual gangster film themes, the power struggle, and the faith in royalty. The protagonist, Tom who works with the boss Leo tries to plan (to a certain degree) this grand scheme in order to steal the girl he is having an affair with. In its storytelling it certainly utilizes the gangster genre’s convention. The film is very violent. Coen brothers did not hide or imply any kind of on-screen violence, which gave the film an R rating. The idea of power is also represented in its use of the hat symbol. The directors paid a lot of attention to the on-and-off of the hat. The film also criticized the society as a result of capitalism. We are focusing on the upper-class people who rule the city while ignoring the citizens. The citizens are ruthlessly forgotten in the epic battles and power shifting of the “big guys”.

However, Miller’s Crossing is a significant different gangster film from Scarface. Scarface was made during the production code era. The governmental message had to be added. For the same reason, the use of blood is much more striking and apparent in Miller’s Crossing. In the scene when Caspar blinds Dane with the axe, the bloodiness and violence is jar staggering. Also, Miller’s Crossing is a much modern film. Its use of camera movement and dense storytelling techniques is much richer, and shows the drama in a different way. The ending of Miller’s Crossing is much different from the conventional gangster genre. It does not end the note on Tom’s career as a gangster, but rather, on the relationship between Tom and Verna.

a violent scene from Miller's Crossing

Aesthetic-wise the film has a warm but desiderated color tone to it, which brings out the nostalgic feeling of the film. Contrasting to Scarface, which is shot in black-and-white, it does not have as much harshness and sharp violence. For example, though the guns are used exclusively in the film, it does not have nearly as much gun fight as that in Scarface. In Miller’s crossing, such aspect of violence is shown in a rather more carefully choreographed way. In its craft, there is more a sense of elegance and beauty.

Overall Miller’s Crossing is a gangster film that borrows most of the traditional gangster genre conventions but also adds a little modern filmmaking touch to it. 

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