The American Independent movement can be sluggish and aimless: stories of sensitive dislocation told at a snail’s pace. Not so the films of the Coen brothers: writer-director Joel and writer-producer Ethan. Dextrously flipping and reheating old movie genres like so many pancakes, they serve them up fresh, not with syrup but with a coating of comic arsenic. Their wondrous facility can lead them into facetiousness; I for one still don’t get Fargo, which seems to be about how the folks in Minnesota (the Coen’s home state) talk funny and act criminally stupid. But in Miller’s Crossing (a reworking of the social chicanery in Dashiell Hammett’s novel Red Harvest), the antagonists are smart and out-smarter. Albert Finney runs a corrupt town in the 1920s, Gabriel Byrne is a brainy sort sometimes allied with Finney, and a stellar lineup of eccentrics (John Turturro, Steve Buscemi, Jon Polito) fills in the background of this marvelous, and pretty serious, fresco. It’s noir with a touch so light, the film seems to float on the breeze like the Frisbee of a fedora sailing through the forest.
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