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Dispatches from the far reaches of the WGF.

This Week’s Script Cavalcade: Miller’s Crossing

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What’s the rumpus, readers?

Today we bob and weave bullets from a bootlegger’s roscoe and have a low-lit and chiaroscuro look at Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1990 neo-noir crime one-two Miller’s Crossing. There’s a wealth of lessons to be glommed from this screenplay. The characters are complex and despicably charismatic and the plot is elegantly entangled and peppered to perfection with daffy dames, priggish palookas, and fire-belching Tommy guns. It’s got it all, yah yeggs.

The characters are world-class finks. Detestable but always endearingly so. We have our protagonist Tom Reagan who sees all the angles but drinks like a fish and can’t lay off the ponies and is just your all-around no-good heel. But underneath the layers of immoral slime, Tom proves to be in possession of a wide assortment of laudable qualities. He’s loyal and adheres to a strict code. And smart. He’s whip-smart and irrepressibly a creature of logic and strategy. And commands an icy demeanor that can’t be ruffled despite being a perpetual punching bag a majority of the movie. It’s testament to his grit. And it’s why we’re rooting for him from word go. All the cynicism, shortcomings, and foibles and all.

It’s little wonder why we’re so enamored with this lump of a goon. He slangs all the best one-liners. All delivered with churlish cool comportment and diamond-precision comic timing. Tom’s all slow-burning ire and irreverence morning, noon, and night. A consummate example of grace under fire.

In these scenes he’s shaking off a particularly vicious hangover and still manages to brandish a biting bon mot or two.

All in all, not a bad guy.

It’s a screenplay that demands repeat readings. After the umpteenth thumb-thru you’re still walking away with mounds of newly discovered writerly insights. What the writers do here with language is superb. It’s English, sure, but not quite. The Coens employ this sort of antiquated pidgin palaver that just rings resoundingly authentic to audience ears. It’s both mellifluous and barking mad. And I can’t get enough of it.

Another strength this script commands in spades is the character interactions. The back-and-forths crackle like staccato machine gun fire and our ears just buzz with joy at the rhythms. In one scene we have Tom verbally sparring with Leo insouciantly speaking of broken legs. The scene just hums with playful impertinence.

It’s a script that is very mindful of the genre that it is paying homage to and borderline exaggerating at times. It’s painfully self-aware of itself and it’s but all too apparent within its pages how much respect the Coens have for the hardboiled cliches and conventions of noir. It’s rigorously self-referential as it plucks the best qualities from the film noir and gangster films of the past and lumps it all together into something that has its own voice and velocity. Miller’s Crossing stalwartly takes its place among the pantheon of great dark crime-caper films of yesteryear such as The Godfather, Double Indemnity, and The Big Sleep.

So raise a glass to Volstead and dangle on over to sip generously from this gimlet of a script.

And when you’re sick of the high hat, come coo too over these other newly acquired screenplays in our library’s collection:

  • The sun-soaked 2017 screenplay of Baywatch written by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift.
  • 2010’s action-comedy Knight and Day penned by Patrick O’Neill.
  • David Lynch’s 1984 epic science-fiction opus Dune. Critically maligned upon release but a constant cult classic that still bewilders and bifurcates opinion today.
  • Fox Searchlight Pictures’ newly released comedy-drama Gifted written by Tom Flynn.
  • The Emmy-winning Seinfeld episode “The Contest” written by the always ignoble Larry David.

If none of these strike your fancies, then have a twirl and a tumble through our ever growing online catalog.