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Miller's Crossing is a 1990 crime film directed by Joel and Ethan Coen and starring Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, Marcia Gay Harden, Jon Polito and John Turturro. The plot concerns a power struggle between two rival gangs and how the protagonist (Byrne) plays both sides off each other.

In 2005, Time magazine chose Miller's Crossing as one of the 100 greatest movies ever made since the inception of the periodical. Time critic Richard Corliss called it a "noir with a touch so light, the film seems to float on the breeze like the Frisbee of a fedora sailing through the forest."


Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne) is the long-time confidant of Leo O'Bannon (Albert Finney), an Irish gangster political boss who runs his Prohibition-era city. When Leo's Italian rival Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito) announces his intentions to kill the crooked bookie Bernie Bernbaum (John Turturro), Leo goes against Tom's advice and extends his protection to Bernie. Bernie is the brother of Verna Bernbaum (Marcia Gay Harden), an opportunistic gun moll who shares a longtime relationship with Leo as well as a secret affair with Tom. Leo goes to war with Caspar as a consequence.

Tom tries everything he can to convince Verna and Leo to give Bernie up to Caspar to end the war, but neither will budge. After an assassination attempt on Leo, Tom reveals his affair with Verna, causing Leo to turn his back on both. With no alternative, Tom goes to work for Caspar, and is immediately commanded to kill Bernie at Miller's Crossing to prove his loyalty.

Bernie pleads with Tom to spare him, and Tom allows him to escape. The gang war goes well for Caspar and he quickly assumes Leo's position as boss of the city. However, Tom begins sowing discord between Caspar and his most trusted enforcer, Eddie Dane. At the same time, Bernie returns and tries to blackmail Tom into killing Caspar.

Tom's machinations convince Caspar to kill Eddie Dane. Tom then arranges a meeting with Bernie, but sends Caspar instead. Bernie gets the jump on Caspar and kills him. Tom arrives and tricks Bernie into giving up his gun, then reveals his intention to murder him despite gaining no advantage from the deed. Bernie once again attempts to beg Tom for mercy, but this time Tom shoots him in cold blood.

Tom and Leo reconcile now that Tom has personally ended the gang war. Verna has also won her way back into Leo's good graces, but she reacts coldly to Tom. On the day Bernie is being buried, Leo announces his intention to marry Verna and offers Tom his old job back. Tom refuses. He remains behind in Miller's Crossing and watches Leo leave.


  • Gabriel Byrne as Tom Reagan, a bitter but well-connected gangster who "sees all the angles" and advises Leo on the "smart play," but is constantly hindered by his excessive gambling debts.
  • John Turturro as Bernie Bernbaum, a homosexual Jewish bookie who double-crosses his friends for his own advantage.
  • Marcia Gay Harden as Verna Bernbaum, a seductive moll who uses Leo to protect her crooked brother Bernie.
  • Albert Finney as Liam "Leo" O'Bannon, a tough but fair Irish political and crime boss who runs the city, but bends to Verna's desires.
  • Jon Polito as Giovanni "Johnny Caspar" Gasparo, an upstart Italian mafioso who wants to kill Bernie for sabotaging his fixed boxing matches.
  • Steve Buscemi as Mink Larouie, a homosexual bookie who is caught in the middle of the gang war as well as his relationships with Bernie and Eddie Dane.
  • J. E. Freeman as Eddie Dane, Johnny's ferocious right-hand man as well as Mink's lover.


While writing the screenplay, the Coen brothers tentatively titled the film The Bighead - their nickname for Tom Reagan. The first image they conceived was that of a black hat coming to rest in a forest clearing; then, a gust of wind lifts it into the air, sending it flying down an avenue of trees. This image begins the film's opening credit sequence.

Because of the intricate, dense plot, the Coens suffered from writer's block while working on the script. They went to stay with a close friend of theirs at the time, William Preston Robertson in St. Paul, Minnesotamarker, in the hopes that a change of scenery might help. After watching Baby Boom one night, they returned to New York Citymarker and wrote Barton Fink (in three weeks) before resuming the Miller's Crossing screenplay.

They alluded to Barton Fink in the film in two ways, by naming Tom's apartment building the "Barton Arms" and with an article that appears prominently in a newspaper with the headline, "Seven Dead in Hotel Fire" which refers to the fire at the end of their next film, Barton Fink.

The budget was reported by film industry magazines as $14 million, but the Coens claimed in interviews that it was only $10 million. During the casting process, they had envisioned Trey Wilson (who played Nathan Arizona in the Coens' previous film Raising Arizona) as gangster boss Leo O'Bannon, but two days before the first day of principal photography he died from a brain hemorrhage. Finney was subsequently cast.

The Coens cast family and friends in minor roles. Finney also appears in a very brief cameo as an elderly female ladies' room attendant. Sam Raimi, film director and friend of the Coens, appears as the snickering gunman at the siege of the Sons of Erin social club, while Frances McDormand, Joel Coen's wife, appears as the Mayor's secretary. The role of The Swede was written for Peter Stormare, but he could not be cast since he was playing Hamlet at the time. J.E. Freeman was cast and the name of the character was changed to The Dane, while Stormare went on to be featured in two other Coen movies, Fargo and The Big Lebowski.

The city is unidentified. The Coens shot the movie in New Orleans because they were attracted to its look. Ethan Coen commented in an interview, "There are whole neighborhoods here of nothing but 1929 architecture. New Orleans is sort of a depressed city; it hasn’t been gentrified. There’s a lot of architecture that hasn’t been touched, store-front windows that haven’t been replaced in the last sixty years."

During filming, the New Orleans Police would arrive semi-regularly to assess fines for permits the film crew had already procured. Joel Coen commented to Premiere magazine during shooting, "They are acting precisely like the cops that we're depicting in the movie, and they don't even care!"


Miller's Crossing was a box-office failure at the time, making slightly more than $5 million at the box office, out of its $14 million budget. However, it has made a great deal of revenue in video and DVD sales. The film was critically acclaimed, and has a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Miller's Crossing won the Critic's Award at the 2nd Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival in February 1991.


The score to Miller's Crossing is written by Carter Burwell, the third of his collaborations with the Coen Brothers.

Selections of the soundtrack are reflective of the American 1920s era in which the film is set, with jazz band tunes such as the "King Porter Stomp" and "Running Wild". The soundtrack also includes "Danny Boy", sung by Frank Patterson, an Irish tenor, which is played during the scene in which Albert Finney's character Leo evades and then kills his assassins with a Thompson submachine gun. Patterson can also be heard singing the Jimmy Campbell song, Goodnight Sweetheart, in the scene where Leo punches Tom down the stairs of his Shenandoah Club.

Track listing

  1. "Opening Titles" – 1:53
  2. "Caspar Laid Out" – 1:57
  3. "A Man and His Hat" – 0:56
  4. "King Porter Stomp" (performed by Jelly Roll Morton) – 2:09
  5. "The Long Way Around" – 1:39
  6. "Miller's Crossing" – 2:35
  7. "After Miller's Crossing" – 0:42
  8. "Runnin' Wild" (performed by Joe Grey) – 3:06
  9. "All a You Whores" – 0:24
  10. "Nightmare in the Trophy Room" – 1:37
  11. "He Didn't Like His Friends" – 0:24
  12. "Danny Boy" (performed by Frank Patterson) – 4:05
  13. "What Heart?" – 0:49
  14. "End Titles" – 4:44
  15. "Goodnight Sweetheart" (performed by Frank Patterson) – 0:54


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