Sunday, April 3, 2016

Boardwalk Empire

Season 4 (2013) and 5 (2014)
As Nucky makes peace arrangements with Rothstein and Masseria, he pursues new business interests in Florida while being strong armed by a Harlem gangster, pursued by a crooked agent of the Justice Department, an targeted by an increasingly ambitious and ruthless Luciano. In a detached story, as his reign comes to an end, we learn Thompson's rags to riches tale of how he became Treasurer of Atlantic City. The 4th season of Boardwalk Empire is still watchable yet a far cry from where it stood in its first few runs. Wright is a disappointing and ineffectual villain, new cast additions either fall flat (Brian Geraghty, Eric Laden) or are poorly utilized (Patricia Arquette, Ron Livingston). Shea Whigham is a standout among the principal cast. The 5th and final, abbreviated outing marks a great disappointment with the showrunners appearing to take up a task (an admittedly difficult one) that was beyond them with no idea where to go. A leap forward in time meshed with a horrid backstory topped off with a pathetic, barely thought out finale was sadly where signs had been pointing for the drama and should serve as a lesson for anyone attempting to do serialized historical fiction.
Season 4 : *** out of ****
Season 5 : ** out of ****

Season 3 (2012)
As New Year's Eve 1922 is celebrated in Atlantic City, Nucky's (Steve Buscemi) decision to constrict his bootlegging practices offends a highly volatile (and easily offendable) gangster (Bobby Cannavale) who commandeers a nearby suburb and sets his sights on A.C. On other fronts, Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) enjoys her newly acquired duties at the local hospital, though her seeds of dissatisfaction will germinate through the course of an affair with her husband's subordinate (Charlie Cox). Gillian  (Gretchen Mol) continues to scheme and grieve following her loss, Van Alden (Michael Shannon) attempts to establish himself in an unfriendly Windy City, and Richard (Jack Huston) may have found a solace he could have never imagined since attaining his war injury. "Boardwalk Empire's" third go round features some of the most dazzling visuals and fancy camerawork the series has had to offer, but is the most slight in terms of plot. The aforementioned subplots, in addition to others, hold interest in their own right, but often feel like filler and as not contributing to the thrust of the plot. Newcomer Cannavale is excellent though, and his explosive presence offers many alternately humorous and terrifying moments to the series. Also a body ridden season finale is not nearly as satisfying as the pulse pounding episode that preceded it.
*** 1/2

Season 2 (2011)
With a coup underway to oust Nucky, both Jimmy and the targeted treaurer's brother Eli walk a treacherous path, dealing not only with devious gangsters but also a crippling strike by the African-American community at the heart of the summer season. On top of his legal problems, Nucky faces personal problems as a discontented Margaret, now grief ridden after her daughter has been stricken with polio, finds solace with the local parish priest and in overly generous offerings to the Lord. The second season of "Boardwalk Empire" is an almost unfathomable continuation of excellence, somehow maintaining the same cinematic level of greatness achieved in season one. Steve Buscemi turns in a wonderful, nuanced performance which is unlike any other gangster portrayal, at least that I've ever seen. Michael Pitt contributes affecting award worthy work as the cheerless and deceitful Jimmy and Kelly Macdonald is still incredible in the complex role of Margaret. In an impeccable supporting cast, Michael Shannon stands out as the dogged federal agent whose story takes more than a few unexpected turns and Shea Whigham as Buscemi's frustrated, overlooked brother. With its alternately beautiful, brutal, and affecting methods, "Boardwalk Empire" achieves an excellence in television that no other series, with the exception of "Mad Men", even remotely approaches.

Season 1 (2010)
Usually I keep television shows out of the blog, but I feel Boardwalk Empire is a series that approaches great film and, while watching, it feels like a solid 12 hour movie. This should come as no surprise since the show is brought to us by legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese. He directed the first episode, offering the blueprint for the subsequent episodes. He also produces and consults on other aspects of the show. Boardwalk was created by Sopranos veteran Terrence Winter and he brings along other members of that great show. Again, we have a show set in New Jersey, this time in Atlantic City and again we follow professional criminals who drink, screw, curse, lie, cheat, steal, swindle, and murder. We follow several story threads and the main character is AC treasurer Nucky Thompson played by a finely tuned Steve Buscemi. This is not another Tony Soprano, as Thompson has more of a soft spot. This doesn't mean that he isn't capable of carrying out heinous acts. We meet a young Irish widow (Kelly McDonald) who comes into his life and also Jimmy (Michael Pitt) and young enforcer he sees as his own son. The story mixes real characters with fictional ones and all are played by fine actors: Michael Stuhlbarg plays Arnold Rothstein, the New York gangster who becomes at odds with Nucky and his crew. His segments are a highlight of the show and wonderfully acted by Stuhlbarg. Michael Shannon plays an agent and religious zealot on the hunt for bootleggers. We also meet characters such as a hot headed Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, and Warren G. Harding. Boardwalk Empire is also a visual success and a screenwriting success. In an era when ignorance passes for good television, this show is like a breath of fresh air. I urge you seek it out on DVD or on reruns on HBO.