A frame-bursting roster of actors crowds this two-part HBO miniseries, which is nothing less than a look at America through the lens of a small New England town. Richard Russo adapted his own novel
, a story of a gently depressed factory town that has always been run by the wealthiest family around (currently lorded over by matriarch Joanne Woodward). Ed Harris plays the central role, a decent, cautious man who runs a local diner and carefully negotiates the political niceties of Empire Falls; Paul Newman is his rapscallion of a father (the son is perpetually picking food out of Dad's beard), Helen Hunt is Harris's ex-wife, Aidan Quinn his feistier brother, and Robin Wright Penn his tragical mother seen in flashbacks.
The goal of Russo and director Fred Schepisi seems to have been fidelity to the novel, which gives the film a pleasingly relaxed pace but also a somewhat literal-minded binding. Even that doesn't explain the general lack of tautness, or why so much of the dialogue has an awkward fit in actors' mouths. Harris and Newman, of course, are younger and older versions of American monuments, and their sheer presence goes a long way toward making the picture work (for the premium Newman-Russo match, see Robert Benton's sublime film of Nobody's Fool). Most of the twists in the final reels are genuinely affecting, and the movie has the courage to end on a mild note rather than strain to tie everything up. It's a fitting finale for an unassuming enterprise. --Robert Horton
Adapted by author Richard Russo from his 2001 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, EMPIRE FALLS is a portrait of the gritty drama and human comedy that make up everyday life in blue-collar America. On a daily basis, goodhearted restaurant manager Miles Roby (Ed Harris "Glengarry Glen Ross") tries to keep his Empire Grill going, even as the wealthy and powerful Mrs. Whiting(Joanne Woodward "Philadelphia"), makes life difficult for him. If that wasn't enough, Miles has to keep tabs on his scoundrel of a dad, Max (Paul Newman "The Color of Money") who is always looking for trouble. But, Miles has something much bigger than just restaurant receipts and a cantankerous father on his mind-he can't shake the ghosts of his past that keep his fate inevitably connected to Empire Falls.