Miller’s Crossing comes to US Region Free Blu-ray complete with a solid 1080p video presentation in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. It’s a 20 year-old movie, set almost a Century ago, and shot for a shoestring budget, so there’s no reason to have great expectations here – but, thankfully, this Blu-ray presents the material considerably better than ever before. Detail is reasonably good and fairly consistent, but not with the assistance of aggressive DNR – indeed we get a fine sheen of grain running throughout. That’s not to say DNR is not at work, and that some scenes don’t look slightly softer than you would have liked them to, but just that it is an unquestionable improvement over previous SD-DVD incarnations: better contrast, better colour reproduction, and better fine object detail. Black levels are strong too, allowing for some great shadow detail. You can’t compare it to modern big budget Studio productions released on the format, but, at the same time, fans should be more than content with the noteworthy upgrade.
On the aural front we get a DTS-HD Master Audio track which is just as much if not slightly more of an upgrade than the video presentation, giving us clear and coherent dialogue from across the frontal array, dominating it where appropriate, and some reasonably effective use of the surrounds – inherent limitations of the material notwithstanding. It’s not just the louder moments of expansive surround use (most notably the gunshots: that “Danny Boy”-set Tommy gun sequence truly stands out and will leave your ears ringing) that are memorable, as the quieter scenes still exhibit some nice atmospheric coverage (the forest-set scenes are particularly noteworthy). It is a low budget affair; it is a twenty year old production, and it was never intended to make for dynamic demo quality material, but this is easily the best that we have ever heard from Miller’s Crossing. Easily the best part of the track has to be the coverage of the score, which penetratingly courses through the entire piece. A little more bass and a little more surround use and this might have been reference quality, instead it marks a commendable if not quite exceptional upgrade.
Although released separately, Miller’s Crossing also comes as part of a Coen Brothers box set, in which two of the titles come with Audio Commentary tracks, as well as a selection of extras. Miller’s, by comparison, has only a couple of extra features, and no Commentary. Now I know that the Coen Brothers are famously reluctant to provide Commentary tracks, in large part because they think that such tracks are pointless, but it would have been nice to have something more substantial than interviews with the Cinematographer and some cast members.
Shooting Miller's Crossing – A Conversation with Barry Sonnenfeld is just that, a 16 minute piece where we get to hear from the Cinematographer himself. An interesting piece, we hear how he got involved in the film industry, and how he met the Coen Brothers themselves, as well as some background information into the production itself, although none of this makes up for the lack of a more substantial Documentary.
Cast Interviews with Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden and John Turturro are merely a selection of soundbites from the aforementioned cast members, compiled to run at a total of 9 minutes, and similarly lacking any real substance. Still, better than nothing.
The disc is rounded off by a Still Gallery and some Theatrical Trailers for the main feature as well as the Coens’ earlier Raising Arizona.
Some love them, some hate them, but the Coen Brothers are undeniably distinctive filmmakers who have crafted a variety of movies which certainly do not fit easily into conventional categories. Personally, I only love a couple of their movies, but Miller’s Crossing is one of them, a very unusual film noir, which has all the Directors’ trademark flourishes and quirky comedic tendencies, but also the backbone of a Dashiell Hammett story (the same one adapted for Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and Leone’s Fistful of Dollars), fantastic cinematography, a superb score, and a selection of powerhouse performances from all those involved. With atypical characterisation, and fantastic dialogue as well, there is little more you could want from a quality production – possibly the reason why this film has made so many top lists, including the AFI top 50 gangster films, and Time Magazine’s Top 100 films of all time. Still, I can’t deny that the work of the Coen Brothers is polarizing at the best of times, and many will simply not want to give this a chance. If you do, however, then you will hopefully find a true gem amidst their offbeat, oddball filmography. Highly recommended.
On Region Free US Blu-ray we get video and audio that marks a considerable upgrade over the previous, fairly lacklustre, SD-DVD incarnations, as well as a couple of nice if insubstantial extras. Fans will want to pick this baby up, or at least get it as part of the Coen Brothers collection (indeed, if you actually like any of the other movies – two out of four was not enough to sell me). Newcomers would be advised to give this a rental, because Coen Brothers movies are very much like Marmite, and you won’t know whether you like it until you actually watch it. Make sure you make it through to the end, however, as this is a film which will reward you come the final act, and deliver considerably on subsequent viewings.
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