Newest Review: ... menace, as we saw in Shane Meadows 'This is England'. Graham also played another notorious American gangster in Johnny Depp's rare misfire ... more
It's not The Sopranos but....
Boardwalk Empire - Season 1 (DVD)
Member Name: thedevilinme
Boardwalk Empire - Season 1 (DVD)
Advantages: Hooked already
Disadvantages: Not as good as..
Genre - Drama
County - USA
Certificate - 18R
Awards - 2 Golden Globes
Imdb.com - 8.7/10.0 (58,816 votes)
Run Time - 12X 50 minute episodes
Blockbusters - £5.00 per week rental
Amazon - £15.50 DVD (£18.50Blue Ray)
Chalky White: These here are my daddy tools.
Klan leader: [nervously] What are you going to do with them?
Chalky White: well, I ain't building a bookcase.
When the West Wing finished I knew there would never be anything like that again and so always settling for second best from now on in as far as American TV drama goes. That series really was very special. But The Wire and The Soprano's showed that HBO could still do it and so when the creator of that wonderfully dark gangster series from New Jersey, Terrance Winter, came up with Boardwalk Empire I was in, 'Boardwalk' effectively the 1920s version of The Sopranos and so more of the same thank you very much, the political complexity of The Wire thrown in to complete the temptation.
The series is dominated by Steve Buscemi, the world greatest character actor, a career defining performance by the somewhat gormless looking thespian. He plays his version of Enoch 'Nucky' Thompson, a real life character who was the mayor/treasurer of Atlantic City at the time of prohibition in the 1920s, a ruling that made booze illegal across America, Thompson the man who controlled the city purse strings and a 'Grade A' gentleman gangster to boot. The real 'Nuck' looked more like Tony Soprano but an inspired decision by Winter to go with Buscemi after working with him in The Sopranos is the clincher for the series and who cant argue with that amazing bug-eyed screwed up face as far as screen presence goes, one that can do pity, hate, joy and bemusement all in the same expression.
Although the Boardwalk was plugged heavily as a Martin Scorcese production he doesn't direct and here just as executive producer (he helped put up the cash) although what an ear and eye to have on set when making a TV series about period American gangsters. This is Winters all the way and plenty of reassuring echoes of The Sopranos in graphic violence, dark humor and taboo romance to get you on board early on, as well as some brilliant characters - some famous and familiar - giving this the blue chip stamp of American television drama quality.
Our very own Scouse actor Stephen Graham plays Al Capone and very well too, an actor with real ambiguous menace, as we saw in Shane Meadows 'This is England'. Graham also played another notorious American gangster in Johnny Depp's rare misfire 'Public Enemy', that of 'Baby' Face Nelson and tends to play the sadistic hard nuts these days. When he tried to balance that villain portfolio by playing Billy Bremner in the brilliant Damned United he was, alas, painfully comically. He won't be doing that again.
= = = Prohibition = = =
The United States had a national ban on the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol from 1920 to 1933, driven by President Woodrow Wilson. The 'dry movement' was led by rural Protestants in both political parties, stating the 18th amendment to enforce as the law, but overthrown by the 21st amendment 13 years later by Franklyn Roosevelt.
= = = The Plot = = =
Series one runs 12 episodes and we begin as Nucky and the rich and connected of Atlantic City celebrate prohibition in style with the finest champagne on the clang of midnight. For Nucky, the government making alcohol illegal is a license to make some serious money by organizing the smuggling of the liquor and booze into the City, which he sets about with great gusto, with the tacit help of the lawmakers and political class to keep the party going, the start of 'bootlegging' in America. He has appointed his brother as Chief of Police and so no one to stop him. If there is scam going in the city the Treasurer is likely to be running it and if he isn't he will expect at least 20%.
His biggest critic is the rather proper Margaret Schroeder (Kelly McDonald), a member of the conservative 'Women's Temperance League' and also a punch bag to a violent husband. But Nucky pathologically believes the people are behind him as leader and inspiration, and the provider of their booze and contraband, so pretty Mrs. Schroeder a challenge he can't refuse, soon charming her into his charismatic embrace, an unlikely coupling.
Nucky's likely successor is young Elias 'Eli' Thompson (Shea Whigham), his Irish American nephew, who works for the 'family business' after returning from The Great War, scarred physically and emotionally. But Nucky doesn't think he is ready to move up and so the kid heads to Chicago to play gangsters there, teaming up with another soon to be rising star called Al Capone (Stephen Graham), the ambitious pair doing a job together in New Jersey that causes Eli to flee to the Windy City in the first place.
In Chicago, Capone is a hitman and thug for a prominent crime family the Luciano's, headed by Charles 'The Neck' Luciano, who is beginning to forge alliances with Jewish mobsters in New York, headed by Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlberg), to try and get control of the East Coast bootlegs down to places like Atlantic City. Young Eli wants a part in that set up and soon impressing his bosses. But he is Irish and they are Italian and he doesn't feel part of the family and so moves back to Atlantic City to help Nucky as the rival's mobsters from New York begin to bite big into Luckys smuggling revenue. But Thompson plans an alliance of his own, moving illegal booze production to the control of black mobster 'Chalky' White (Michael Kenneth William), who has the backing of his people and the votes that win Thompson his seat at election time, Nuckys man of the people role the driver to his corrupt office.
The flawed hero of the piece is God-fearing, square-jawed Prohibition agent 'Nelson Van-Alden' (Michael Shannon), his teams job to bring down the bootleggers, his eye firmly on Thompson and his Atlantic City operation, setting up his HQ there, maybe pinning one or two murders on him as well, if he can get the witnesses to come forward.
Let the battle begin...
Right from the simple but stylish opening credits and theme tune you know your going to love this. Hey, you want to like this. It's HBO after all. It's the one we have been waiting for since the end of The Sopranos and The Wire. It's not quite as dangerous and menacing as The Sopranos and Buscemi's dismissive stare will never match Tony Soprano's dark facial expressions as he moves from loving father to killer in matter of a car drive but its still looks great and offers menace.
Steve Buscemi singlehandedly lifts this into that pantheon of top HBO shows with his amazing lead turn in the style of risky clever TV the channel is known for. It's sharp-suited and looks fantastic and dripping with money like the mobsters are, no stone left unturned for period authenticity. So far it's lacked the delicious violent intent and the psychopathic undertone of The Sopranos that seemed to be its major appeal although Stephen Grahams Al Capone character is shaping up nicely to make up for that. The gangsters of Boardwalk are gentleman, the mob and the lawmakers of the ruling class, and so somehow legitimizing the violence and corruption on screen the way the Wire did. It's almost as if David Simon and Terrance Winter have come together and this is what they would have produced if they did and a compromise between the two great shows styles.
It's rather explicit at times - sexually and language wise - and the sex somehow doesn't sit right for me in context. It's almost as if that stuff is in there to just to make it feel more adult to get a bigger audience. We have incest and infidelity, treachery and double-cross, and one character sleeps with his mother and kills his father in the same night! The show also features the wonderful line of 'she is as wet as mermaids t*at'. Oops, there goes my crown!
There are extras galore throughout the five discs and commentaries on most episodes, a luxury afforded only by the series huge budget. But listening to Terrance Winter and Martin Scorcese talking about gangsters and making movies is always a pleasure on a layered track. There are a couple of other bits about the making of the series and documentaries about the real lifestyle of 1920s prohibition America and Atlantic City.
If you love HBO then this show is for you and you can hook yourself back into the anticipation of the next boxset t come like you did with their previous HBO classics. We are on series three and so even if there isn't another series you have enough to see your winters through in style.
= = = Critics = = =
New York Daily News -"Watching HBO's new 'Boardwalk Empire' is like sitting in your favorite tavern and hearing someone say, 'Drinks are on the house.' Friends, it does not get much better'.
TV Guide - "... brilliantly marries Martin Scorsese's virtuosic cinematic eye to Terence Winter's panoramic mastery of rich character and eventful story'.
Variety Magazine -"This is, quite simply, television at its finest, occupying a sweet spot that--for all the able competition--still remains unique to HBO: An expensive, explicit, character-driven program, tackling material no broadcast network or movie studio would dare touch ..."
The Guardian - 'One of the unexpected joys of 'Boardwalk Empire' lies in the way the show revels in the oddities of its time, peeling back the layers of polite society to reveal a giddy shadow world of criminals and politicians collaborating to keep the liquor flowing'.
The Seattle times -'"Extravagantly produced, shockingly violent and as cold and hard as ice, Boardwalk Empire brings us back to the world's former playground at the start of Prohibition'.
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