Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Character Depth - Tom Reagan

This one comes to us from Russell Totten:

“What heart?” declares Tom Reagan as he shoots Bernie dead at the end of Miller’s Crossing. And indeed, you could ask the same question. We follow him through the movie, being as flippant as possible to all the characters with very little variation. Yet his complexity emerges from the “what ifs” and the way he deals with them. He’s happy for the bookie to break his legs for his debts; he’s happy to tell Johnny Casper “I told you so”; he’s happy to tell his boss, Leo, that he’s sleeping with Verna. Originally, he doesn’t kill Bernie in the woods, but then he didn’t think he was going to have to do it himself, suggesting he was happy for it to happen. So, why did he let him go? Later he tells Verna it’s not easy, but he contradicts himself blowing Bernie away in cold blood. We do get a few hints as to what might be happening inside Tom. Verna is perhaps one possible doorway: he tells her he loves her, and she does raise the question of his jealousy. But then, to turn it all upside down, he kills her brother and makes a joke at his funeral. Another possibility could be him throwing up in the woods when The Dane is searching for Bernie’s body; perhaps he IS scared when he realizes the risk he took isn’t going to pay off. So, is Tom Reagan a complex character? Arguably, yes, but really he’s a man who calculates the odds and plays the game, even if there’s a risk. Then there’s the element of luck, which he rides gloriously throughout the film. All of which leads us to the essence of his character: he is a gambler, nothing more.

16 comments:

Mystery Man said...

I thought this was great, Russell, particularly the ending: "a man who calculates the odds and plays the game, even if there’s a risk. Then there’s the element of luck, which he rides gloriously throughout the film. All of which leads us to the essence of his character: he is a gambler, nothing more."

Matthew Spira said...

I knew I liked this Russell guy!

-Matt

GameArs said...

Miller's Crossing is my all-time favorite script and Tom is one of my five favorite film characters ever, right along with Albert Finney (Leo), who gave us one of his best performances (among so many amazing performances) in this film.

Russell! This is a great example of a character with contradiction.

Tom acts removed and apathetic to all that goes on around him, only to show us just how far he'll go to look out for Leo and Verna, the two people he really cares about.

When he says "What Heart" - as you lead with in your post - he makes the ultimate contradiction, because as we find out, he'd been putting himself on the line for Leo and Verna all along. He turns out to be acting selflessly the whole time. As loyal a friend as anyone could have.

Again, great example. You go, Russell!

Nic said...

Right there with GameArs, Tom is one of my favorites. He comes across and cold, calculated and selfish, but by the end of the film everything he's done can be argued as done for the benefit of Leo. Incredible selflessness.

I also really liked playing with the idea of "Losing your hat = losing your head" which are some of the really big moments where things might break in the wrong direction for Tom.

osakatotten said...

Hey, thanks people. Nice to know my favourite character, from my favourite movie, is appreciated.

Personally, I absolutely LOVE the scene when Tom tells Verna about a dream he had about his hat blowing off. And she reels off:
"And you chased it, right? You ran and ran, finally caught up to it and you picked it up. But it wasn't a hat anymore and it changed into something else, something wonderful."

Only for Tom to throw it back in her face:
"Nah, it stayed a hat and no, I didn't chase it. Nothing more foolish than a man chasin' his hat."

The way Byrne delivers that line, I love it.

osakatotten said...

And, of course, the whole point to that previous comment is what we can interpret from the line.

But that's getting into subtext..... :)

osakatotten said...

And, of course, the whole point to that previous comment is what we can interpret from the line.

But that's getting into subtext..... :)

GameArs said...

Rusell. Again, you point out another of Tom's best contradictions. He says there's nothing more foolish than a man chasing his hat, and yet, why did he go to Verna's apartment?

To get his hat.

What a great script.

Miriam said...

I've never seen Miller's Crossing, but I had the privilege of reading it earlier this year. A TS member changed the title and the name of the main character with a Find and Replace tool and submitted as an original work. All of the first five or so reviewers recognized it. I didn't because I'd never seen it, but I did realize it was written by a pro, and mentioned that in my review.

I really enjoyed it and I've been meaning to find time to watch it since then.

The funny part was that the member changed Tom to Ray, but didn't realize his Find and Replace tool would also change tommy-gun to ray-gun.

Shares Dream World said...

That's a hysterical typo. Years ago, I was a proofreader at an ad agency and one of the funnier typos I caught was in brochure where a person's title was listed as the VP of "pubic" relations.

Mystery Man said...

I have to add that Miller's Crossing was also a submission over at Emerson's Opening Shots Project found here.

They pointed out how the Coen Brothers love to use objects as symbols for characters, especially before we actually meet them, and in the case of Miller's Crossing, well, I'll just quote them:

“Before we see anything, we hear the unmistakable sound of ice clicking together. The camera's eye opens, and we see an empty tumbler, illuminated by a green glow. Suddenly, three cubes of ice are quickly tossed inside, and a healthy dose of whiskey soon follows. A hand grabs the glass and pulls it away, as he we hear gangster Johnny Caspar pontificate, off-screen, 'I'm talkin' about friendship. I'm talkin' about character...' And cut. Now, forget that our protagonist is a boozing Irishman... that's not the stereotype that defines Tom Reagan or interests the Coens. It is ice and that lamp and those first two lines. As we'll see through the course of this labyrinthine film, Tom is that ice: Cold, hard, strong, able to cut and able to freeze people out. But he, like the glass of ice, is surrounded by green greed and, ultimately, tough questions of friendship and character. The shot lasts 5 seconds, but encapsulates everything that follows.”

Miriam said...

I remember lots of passages like that from the screenplay. It was beautifully written.

GameArs said...

The Coen's are amazing and they inspired me to make the effort to do the same. For example, I included this technique in a script I wrote recently. A woman's fears are represented by a plastic cube in which she carries a picture of her missing daughter.

In a scene later in the movie, the antagonist comes for her, and in this scene where they first meet, CRUNCH, the killer steps on this cube, crushing her emotional defenses. I also have the protagonist in a prison cell, from which the antagonist takes her, to represent that she is set free of her emotional bonds, too.

I never really know if this stuff gets picked up on, but I put it in there anyway. It satisfies my inner screenwriter, even if no one else notices. ;-)

In another script, the protagonist does not like change in his life. So, when he goes on his first date with a girl he likes, I put them on rollerblades and the protagonist is off balance the entire scene. This is to represent his shaky footing as he begins to make the change in his arc.

This is one reason I love reading the Coen brothers and seeing their films. They're chock full of this stuff.

Tom Reagan said...

Glad I could provide such entertainment!

Seriously though, I love the character too.

Mystery Man said...

Hehehe... Thanks for that.

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