The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, February 3-9

millers-crossingMiller’s Crossing (1990)
Directed by Joel Coen
Among the common knocks against the Coen Brothers are their supposed superiority toward their characters and their misanthropic sense of irony suppressing anything resembling human feeling. Such persistent complaints are especially tiresome in light of Miller’s Crossing, which features a character, Tom Regan (Gabriel Byrne), that essentially anticipated all those reservations. “Why can’t you admit… that you’ve got a heart,” Verna (Marcia Gay Harden) teases Tom at one point, “even though it may be small and feeble and you don’t remember the last time you used it?” This emotionally guarded and psychologically opaque character is at the center of the Coens’ Prohibition-era gangster drama; it is through his wary and watchful eyes that we witness a slew of turf warfare and gangland betrayals, with Tom doing his cynically wisecracking best to stay above it all. Not even he is immune to attacks on his soul, though. When his one humane act of mercy midway through the film ends up biting him in the ass not long after, by the time a similar scenario presents itself towards the end, he’s become all heartless calculation. In the end, there’s nothing left for Tom to do except walk away from it all, hiding behind his precious armor-like black fedora. One of the Coens’ most deeply personal films? Carter Burwell’s plaintive score and Barry Sonnenfeld’s velvety cinematography suggest all the tragic pathos Tom himself is unable and/or unwilling to articulate. Kenji Fujishima (February 4, 2:30pm at Film Forum’s Coens retrospective)

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