The answer my friend is a hat blowing in the wind.
The Coen brothers craft a loving homage to gangster pictures of yore with splendid results. Essentially the plot has Gabriel Byrne as a good - bad guy caught between two rival gangster factions. It's a standard story line that is still providing cinematic water for many a film maker these days, but shot through the Coen prism, with literary astuteness holding court, it's a genre piece of considerable class. A picture in fact that gets better and better with further viewings.
When the Coen's are on form they have the skills to make a grade "A" thriller and blend it with a sort of dry irony. It's like they bite the hand that feeds whilst praising said genre influences to the rafters, but it works as damn fine entertainment. On a narrative level Miller's Crossing molds the Byzantine with the labyrinthine, keeping the complexities just on the right side of the street from that of art for arts sake.
Visually the film is superb, the hard working sweat of the city dovetails impudently with the mother nature beauty of Miller's Crossing the place, a place home to misery, a witness to the dark side of man. All the while Byrne, Albert Finney, John Turturro and Jon Polito bring an array of characterisations to the party, each one his own man but each craftily proving the folly of man. Marcia Gay Harden, in one of her first mainstream roles, slinks about making the two main boys sweaty, and wonderful she is as well. While Carter Burwell provides a musical score that has a smug (in a good way) self awareness about it.
Style over substance? Yes, on formative viewings it is. But go back, look again, see and sample what is not being said. Pulpers and noirers will I'm sure get the gist. 8/10