Shiny Shelf

Miller’s Crossing

By Eddie Robson on 11 October 2003

Presumably this premiere DVD release of ‘Miller’s Crossing’ is designed to coincide with the cinema release of the Coen brothers’ latest, ‘Intolerable Cruelty’ – although anybody who sees one and is sufficiently intrigued to check out the other may be in for a surprise. The two movies pitch themselves at very different audiences (no bad thing, since everybody should sample the Coen perspective at least once) and, whilst ‘Intolerable Cruelty’ looks set to provide the brothers with their first resounding box-office success, ‘Miller’s Crossing’ has always been a cult movie and is likely to remain so.

Accordingly, on DVD the movie finally feels at home, although quite why it has taken so long is a mystery. We were informed that Joel and Ethan didn’t want to put it out until they could devote a little time to it, so it seems odd that all we get – apart from the standard trailer and stills gallery – are some interviews with stars Gabriel Byrne, John Turturro and Marcia Gay Harden, and a more in-depth one with cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld.

The Sonnenfeld feature is the only thing to really add value – this was his last film with the Coens before he went off to direct ‘The Addams Family’ and it’s his most proficient work as a cinematographer. But where are the commentaries? A few scenes were shot and not used: where are they? The lack of effort that has gone into this disc suggests that its budget was small, and this further suggests that the movie’s financial failure (its box-office takings on release were tiny) is still hanging over its head.

The reasons for that failure have nothing to do with the film’s quality – the script, in both its story and dialogue, is a marvellous distillation of 1930s gangster pictures. It may have put some audiences off with its peculiar combination of slow-moving action and fast-moving plot, but the real reason why ‘Miller’s Crossing’ failed was because it was released the same week as ‘Goodfellas’. Audiences who wanted a superbly directed, shockingly violent gangster movie with beautiful period detail largely ended up going to see the one with Robert De Niro in.

It’s a shame, because ‘Miller’s Crossing’ is equally good and offers very different pleasures to ‘Goodfellas’ (certainly, Gabriel Byrne is a better lead than Ray Liotta), but the latter film will almost certainly always be the more famous. What can you do? Well, you can buy this DVD, watch it, and make up your own mind.

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By Eddie Robson

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