Coens' gangster-movie homage is a dark, off-kilter twister

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Brothers Grim

Arguably the Coen brothers’ most purely cinematic outing, this loving homage to the golden age of Warner Bros gangster movies is a fascinating box of tricks filled with bravura action sequences, unexpected twists and off-kilter dialogue.

Gabriel Byrne plays Tom Reagan, advisor to Albert Finney’s Prohibition-era crime boss Leo and a man who is trying to keep the peace between warring factions, without much success. As with every Coen movie, the script is beautifully assembled but of secondary importance to the whirlwind of genre-tweaking scenes assembled by the brothers. Standout moments are Leo rousting his midnight attackers armed with just a Thompson, cigar and silk bathrobe, and Reagan’s torture at the hands of a pair of violent (but polite and respectful) hitmen.

In a movie stacked to the gills with great performances, three in particular stand out: Jon Turturro’s freakishly howling turn as the alternately pathetic, smug and unpleasant Bernie Bernbaum, Albert Finney’s last great role to date as the indestructible Leo and Byrne’s dark, complex performance as the troubled Reagan, who must set aside his inherent rationality in order to come to terms with his own ruthlessness. Some rumpus.