Miller’s Crossing. After The Usual Suspects I had to see it again.
Both films began life with an image. Christopher McQuarrie saw five guys in a line-up and he wondered what brought them there and where would it take them. The Coen brothers pictured a fedora on a forest floor being lifted up and carried by a gust of wind.
One image gave birth to a story. The other gave birth to a mess.
In Miller’s Crossing the Coen brothers throw everything in. Prohibition. Irish gangsters, Italian gangsters. People changing sides. Double-crossing (“Nobody knows anybody. Not that well.”). Boxing matches are fixed. A moll sleeps with the boss and his right hand man. The Mayor and the Chief of Police are in the gangsters’ pockets.
But their initial vision was too slight to carry it.
When your starting point is an image of a hat blown by the wind, where can you go? Is writer’s block inevitable? (They suffered from it) Is pastiche/homage inevitable? (They drew heavily on Dashiell Hammett novels).
The answer to both questions must be yes. With five guys in a line-up you have the germ of a story. With a hat blowing in the forest you don’t. Instead all they have been able to give us is the look and feel of a story they didn’t quite manage to write.