Customer Review

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moral Ambiguity Highlights This Impeccable Combination Of Politics And Gangsters--Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together, January 10, 2012
This review is from: Boardwalk Empire: Season 1 [HD] (Amazon Instant Video)
Certainly one of the most eagerly anticipated shows on the 2010 television schedule, HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" boasted the year's most impressive pedigree with Martin Scorsese taking a production credit and even directing the pilot episode. This brain child of Terrence Winter, a primary creative force and writer for "The Sopranos," adapts the Nelson Johnson non-fiction work chronicling the sordid history of Atlantic City into a masterful blend of fact and fantasy. Embraced by mainstream critics and viewers alike, "Boardwalk Empire" recently picked up a Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Program and acting honors for lead Steve Buscemi at both the Globes and the SAG awards. Intended for adult audiences, this is a program whose real pleasures unfold as the season progresses--it has a slow build momentum and a subtlety in plotting and characterizations that might not appeal to more action oriented viewers. But patience is rewarded with a rich and compelling storyline that showcases equal parts politics and mob drama.

Buscemi plays Nucky Thompson, the most pivotal power player of this corrupt political empire. The charming Thompson rules Atlantic City as if he were its king! Set in the prohibition era, Thompson plays both the peacemaker and the enforcer--but in this turbulent time, keeping a tight grip on the city proves to pose some dangerous challenges. Backed by his muscle (Michael Pitt), pursued doggedly by a federal agent (Michael Shannon), and tentatively romancing a recent widow (Kelly Macdonald)--Buscemi does not play Thompson as a one dimensional villain, but instead as a multi-layered businessman. Within this fictional backdrop (yes, I know Thompson was a real person), other notorious real life personages populate the cast such as Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. This is a startlingly realistic portrait of the outlaw days of prohibition!

In addition to Buscemi's fine work, the cast is uniformly excellent. At first, I thought Pitt a bit passive in the role of a henchman but his independence and intelligence start to emerge until he becomes more of an equal and less of an underling. Macdonald, as well, starts as a fairly tentative character but she experiences the story's most compelling transformation. At first she is seduced by the Thompson's clout, than complicit, than free to experience a newfound power of her own. Shannon is creepy menace in what could have been the show's most conventionally good character. But I also really liked Gretchen Mol (Pitt's mother although in real life she is only 9 years his senior), Shea Wigham (Buscemi's brother), Vincent Piazza (Lucky Luciano) and Jack Huston (as a disfigured vet who befriends Pitt). But really, all the supporting roles are played with verve and I could easily have listed an additional four or five actors that stand out.

In some ways, On-demand or DVD is the perfect venue to catch "Boardwalk Empire" where you can allow the story to flow at your own rate. Intelligent and challenging, this isn't a slam bang gangster melodrama. It is a character driven piece occupied by perhaps the most morally ambiguous cast of characters ever assembled for a television program. No one is unscathed in this period saga! At this juncture, it is also noteworthy to include that the production values really do recreate an era gone by. Gorgeous to look at and authentically believable, this is smart and sophisticated entertainment! KGHarris, 2/11.
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