12 December 2010

Boardwalk Empire – Season 1


Steve Buscemi. Omar. Ladies. Guns. Gangs. 20s. Boardwalk Empire.

I don’t really need to write anymore, but I guess I will. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I normally have a strange problem with gang fiction. I’m still not entirely sure why. Classics like The Godfather and Goodfellas largely bored me. The first season of The Sopranos seemed like a chore. Reservoir Dogs I’ve grown to like, but the first time I don’t think I’d yet acclimated to that level of gore. Now, Boardwalk Empire comes along with all its insane pedigree, the above mentioned people/things and Martin Scorsese, it had better well knock my socks off. Oh look, there they are lying on the floor.

This may be because the gang aspect is a bit different from those other stories; Steve Buscemi plays a so-called elected official, Treasurer Enoch “Nucky” Thompson. He’s not the head of the family, he’s just the guy that runs everything. Not everyone respects him. They only really respect what they might be able to get out of him in exchange for money, so-called allegiance, or political favors. Again, I don’t really know why, but it seems I like this sort of character more than Marlon Brando’s. It may be because he’s less of an asshole than Tony Soprano. Anyway, Steve Buscemi is always great as a character actor, and here he plays the lead equally well.

Nucky is the Treasurer of Atlantic City, New Jersey. AC runs on alcohol and gambling, and now with Prohibition in effect, even more money is to be made. People will spend more on stuff if it’s illegal. As such, he who controls the liquor controls the city, and Nucky Thompson is that man, though he doesn’t appear that way to his adoring public; he gives seemingly heartfelt speeches to the temperance groups supporting Prohibition, and courts a women who admires him for his moral standing. This woman, Margaret Schroeder played by Kelly Macdonald, starts off as the faultless housewife and slowly becomes that which she hates while realizing her admiration for Nucky was ill-founded. Most of the other characters are in on it from the start, like Jimmy Darmody, the son of the previous show-runner who’s been out to war and has returned with spiritual scars. Nucky is like a father to him, but that doesn’t keep the old man from using him as a gun.

Jimmy starts out partnering with a young Al Capone. Al proves to be an unreliable jokester, which eventually drives the two apart, and Jimmy finds a new partner in Richard Harrow (Jack Huston), the chilling phantom-masked war veteran who shares a sort of brotherhood with Jimmy’s battlescars, although his are both unseen and dramatically visible. He’s probably the most interesting character on the show. Shame he didn’t have a bigger role. Another actor who should have had more screen time is Michael Kenneth Williams as Chalky White, who only gets a couple chances to show his acting prowess; but when he does, you know Omar’s still dangerous.

Not everyone is Nucky’s friend of course. He has plenty enemies, both in the dark underground and the pious government. The most intriguing one of these, for me at least, was Federal Agent Nelson Van Alden, played by Michael Shannon. Here’s a man who takes his trade all too seriously while most of his compatriots are more likely to side with the man with the booze. The bulk of his devotion to duty is part of his almost psychotic religious intensity. He imagines himself the poster-child for Christianity while I doubt many churches would want him representing them. The guy’s got a bit of a righteous anger problem, and it’s relentlessly entertaining. His attempts to nab Nucky in the act lead to some of the most gripping scenes in the show.

There are a few more notable characters and lots of plot, but this post is getting too long and I don’t think I can make it entertaining. It’s a good show. The first episode, directed by Scorsese, was a bit hard to follow but it set the bar for quality quite high. After that every episode was a bit slower but just as gripping, and almost always featured some sort of violence or skin (Paz de la Huerta has an aversion to clothes). It never got boring. It really was like watching a twelve-hour movie. I’m a very character-oriented kinda guy, and every character on the screen was made either likable or despicable to a level not too far from The Wire. I’m definitely looking forward to season 2.

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