I've never been so in awe of the Coen Brothers as stylists, and I've never been so underwhelmed by them as dramatists. Visually, Miller's Crossing is immaculate. The Coens execute every scene with razor-sharp precision. Even in scenes that are comprised solely of shot-reverse-shot setups, their masterful control is evident. And the dialogue is scrumptious to the ears. However, these things could be said of any Coen Brothers film. Their talent in these regards is consistent among all their films, but their ability to imbue their films with dramatic weight is not. Zig-zagging plots, genre homages, massive ensembles, and black comedy are all well and good, if not engaging. But, if there's no dramatic core to the film, it feels like little more than a superfluous genre riff. And at their worst, that's what the Coens churn out. At their best, however, they filter their adoration for old-school pulpy genre flicks through a nihilistic worldview that's counterbalanced by a reverence for simple morals and grace. It's too bad that's not what they did with this one.
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