Written by Joel and Ethan; directed by Joel; produced by Ethan
Mob consigliere Tom Reagan is caught in the middle of a turf war between two gangster bosses during the Prohibition era…
Seen before? No.
Best performance: John Turturro as slimy bookmaker Bernie Bernbaum.
Coen regulars (running total of appearances): As well as Turturro (1), there’s Frances McDormand (3), who has a cameo as the mayor’s secretary; Steve Buscemi (1), who plays a nightclub dude; and Jon Polito (1) as gangster Johnny Casper.
Best bit: The tense scene when Tom is forced to march Bernie into the woods to kill him.
Review: This does for gangsters what Blood Simple did for film noir. It’s pure pastiche. The opening scene is a (presumably deliberate) echo of The Godfather’s, and after that we get a full-blooded exercise in mafia style – Prohibition, Tommy guns, wisecracking hoodlums in hats, jazz music, sassy dames, street slang, eccentric nicknames and every other cliché you can think of. And it’s all played so straight: whimsy and silliness are virtually absent. The whole film is beautifully shot – but like a lot of exercises in style, the fact the characters are so stock means it fails to totally satisfy. (True to the genre, there’s only one female role of any note and sadly she’s rather dull.) At various points, we’re told that Tom has no heart. Neither does the movie.
Seven machine guns out of 10.