There may be no other gangster film in existence that walks the tightrope Miller’s Crossing walks. On the one hand, the third film from the Coen Brothers is of a piece with the 1930s gangster flicks that influenced it, full of colorful criminals and double-crosses and rat-a-tat action. The dialogue is straight from Dashiell Hammett and the production design is straight from the pre-Code era, à la Scarface and Little Caesar. The gangster subgenre and critical thinking on the subgenre are historically grounded in realism, unlike the mythic and symbolic trappings of the film Western, and Miller’s Crossing honors that in its gritty, ruminative approach to a complex plot. It is, in short, a quintessential gangster film.
On the other hand, stuff like this happens:
The pure gangster film we’ve described so far is constantly in sharp discordance with the Miller’s Crossing that knows it’s a gangster film. Self-awareness is not a traditional quality of the gangster picture. We’re supposed to be shocked when characters get riddled with bullets, not laugh at the absurdity of the manner of their demise (see above). Big hulking goons are supposed to be aces in fistfights, not whimper when they get bonked on the nose. And we’re not supposed to be expending energy reading into tophat dream symbolism during a traditional crime flick, right? In short, this is anything but a quintessential gangster film.
These days, Westerns seem to either be smaller art-house fare or destined box-office flops. Michael Agresta’s phenomenal article “How the Western Was Lost (and Why It Matters)” touches on a few reasons why — see The Lone Ranger, Cowboys & Aliens, Jonah Hex, or don’t see them — and a few reasons the erosion of the genre marks a sad day for American Cinema. Agresta is mainly writing about the public perception of the Western and not necessarily about whether Jonah Hex is any good or not (it’s not), and so the commentary on the smaller art-house stuff is limited. He’d agree, though, I think, that the more limited platform of independent and small-studio filmmaking is where the majority of “good” Westerns are being produced these days.
And Slow West is somewhat of an interesting film to consider in the larger context of The American Western, a long-standing genre with a hugely important but slightly malleable history as outlined by Agresta. Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee as the young dreamer Jay and Michael Fassbender as the mysterious drifter Silas, Slow West is an undeniably style-heavy piece that takes full advantage of the fact that it’s not a big-budget tentpole. In doing so, the film retains a self-awareness that manages to be less wink-wink than you might expect.
Wait a minute – Aaron Sorkin wrote Enemy of the State? Before we get too deep into false advertising here, let it be known that “rewrites” and “script edits” are terms that are extremely broad and ill-defined in most cases. Yes, Sorkin was brought on for rewrites of the Enemy of the State script by David Marconi; no, it’s not clear how much of the film is “his”, at least not in any explicit way. Sorkin presently has no credit for his work on the film, no listing on IMDb or anywhere else, although an early poster (later redacted) did feature his name right after Marconi’s:
“Written by David Marconi AND Aaron Sorkin AND Henry Bean AND Tony Gilroy” – phew. That many cooks in the kitchen usually isn’t a good sign – maybe bringing to mind Stanley Kubrick’s quote about one man writing a novel, one man writing a symphony, and one man making a film – but Sorkin’s name would eventually be struck, as would Bean’s and Gilroy’s, and Sorkin’s reputation as a controlling “sole credit” scriptwriter would presumably grow from there.