Rewatched Apr 19, 2012
A brilliant gangster film noir that gets better and better with each viewing. On first viewing one might get a little confused with some plot points and characters, but not enough to detract from enjoying the film. It is on subsequent viewings that the film truly shines. You discover nuances in the plot, great lines you missed before, and you are free to focus on the fabulous cinematography, the famous Danny Boy scene and the outstanding performances. It is this, the performances, that are the film's greatest achievement. Every single actor goes above and beyond in this film, from it's star Gabriel Byrne down to Steve Buscemi, a secondary character you only see once.
This film gives life to every single secondary character, even a thug sent to beat up Tom who only has one line ("Jesus, Tom") but makes an unforgettable stage exit. How many films can you say have secondary characters with real personality? Far too few I would guess. The actors were given great roles and they all perfected them. Gabriel Byrne was born to play Tom Reagan, the no holds-barred tell-it-as-it-is "smart guy" who has the ear of the most powerful man in town (Albert Finney) and refuses to accept help to pay off gambling debts because his debts are his and his to pay. Marcia Gay Harden is Verna, the anything-but-helpless dame who would do anything to save her brother, the dame who cosies up to the boss among others, the dame Tom Reagan can't shake ("Maybe that's why I like you, Tom. I've never met anyone who made being a son of a bitch such a point of pride"). The standing ovation really goes to Jon Polito as Johnny Casper, the man who wants to take over the town. He is such a squirmy silly little man but his character is enriched by the fact that he wants to be ethical ("You double-cross once - where's it all end? An interesting ethical question").
It is a pure joy to see this film for a 3rd time, and each viewing confirms that this is, indeed, my favourite Coen film. There are films I like to watch annually, but unlike Miller's Crossing, I'm not sure those other films actually get better with each viewing. And this viewing was particularly interesting, having just seen Yojimbo and Fistful of Dollars. All three films share the same root in a Dashiell Hammet story.