Actor Jon Polito passed away last week from cancer. Polito starred in a lot of movies and TV but he was most recognized for his minor roles that he played in several of the Coen brothers films. 1990’s Miller’s Crossing was probably Polito’s biggest role in a Coen brother movie and he was fantastic in it.
Miller’s Crossing was Coen brothers sort of homage to the works of Dashiell Hammett. In particular The Glass Key and Red Harvest were used as inspiration. The movie starts with Jon Polito’s character Jonny Caspar asking crime boss Leo (Albert Finney) to hand over Bernie Bernbaum (John Turturro) who has been messing with Caspar’s fixes. Leo is sleeping with Bernie’s sister Vera (Marcia Gay Harden) so he tells Caspar no.
Caspar wants to go to war over this thinking that his organization is big enough to take on Leo’s. Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne), Leo’s right hand man, thinks it’s a mistake to go to war instead of handing over Bernie. Tom is also seeing Vera on the side. After a bit of back and forth, Tom appears to switch sides and goes over to Caspar’s side. Caspar has Tom take Bernie out into the woods to plug. Then things get interesting.
I love Miller’s Crossing. The movie is almost perfect. From the dialogue to every actor on the screen everything is perfect. Gabriel Byrne plays Tom as a kind of crooked everyman who knows the score and knows what needs to be done to fix the situation that Leo has gotten himself into. Jon Polito is also excellent as the up and coming crime boss who believes in ethics but still thinks every thing can be solved with a gun. And John Turturro is excellent as Bernie, just trying to play an angle no matter the cost. The Coen brothers got writer’s block while working on this film and ended up creating their next film Barton Fink because of it. Miller’s Crossing though is a must see.