Oh, the irony. The Coens choose to begin their murderous and deceitful foray into the mafia genre with an impassioned and self-righteous sermon from a mob under-boss on the importance of ethics. Like all other Coen brothers' films, the tone is set right away.
Another thing that gets set from the very beginning of this story is the audience's need to pay attention. The film is fast-paced, quick-witted, and twisted to the point where, as one character puts it, "up is down; black is white," and nothing is what it seems. Following our main character, Tom (played to perfection by Gabriel Byrne), through his many (mainly self-inflicted) reversals of fortune and trying to figure his complex and seemingly contradictory motivations and loyalties can be dizzying. However, the quality of the writing, the performances, the photography, the sound design, and the general production values make the effort well worth it. Every character is quirky, flawed, and interesting enough to be the star, and every actor plays their character accordingly (with special notice of John Turturro, who is as deliciously slimy as Bernie as I have ever seen any actor be as anyone).
One of the most important trademarks of the (writer, director, producer) Coen brothers team has to be their use of subtle symbolism and subtext to add layers of meaning underneath their stories (usually involving a dream) -- making each film a kind of contemporary fable. This film, perhaps, accomplishes this more elegantly than any other (with the possible exception of another Coen brothers film, No Country for Old Men. I won't spoil it here; but if you watch this film, pay very close attention to each character's hat (or in at least one case, toupee). It's a small element with an enormous impact (perhaps this film is about ethics after all), and it helps elevate this film from just another mafia movie to just another Coen masterpiece.
SAXTON'S FILM PICKS
People are always asking me what my favorite movies are, so I thought I'd make a list with reviews. I'll try to add a new pick every so often until my huge list of favorites is complete.
If you've seen one (or more) of the films, please add your own (appropriate) comments and reviews.