As refreshing as it is to see charismatic chameleon-like character actor Steve Buscemi clad in dapper period attire as the antiheroic lead of HBO’s acclaimed prohibition set powerhouse series Boardwalk Empire, his role as New Jersey State Treasurer Enoch “Nucky” Thompson isn’t quite as compelling as the writers seem to think it is nor is it multifaceted enough to build an entire show around.
While the final result culminates in a marked level of disappointment no doubt influenced by the widespread popularity of the admirably ambitious yet ultimately overrated production whose bandwagon I couldn’t manage to climb aboard – there’s still enough glimmers of excitement evidenced in the rest of Boardwalk’s ensemble cast to keep the storylines spinning at a satisfactory if slightly unsatisfying pace from season start to finish.
Admittedly, considering that Nucky dominates the series arc as the overall centerpiece or compass of HBO’s sprawling gangster piece, it’s fairly easy for the typically compelling Buscemi to be upstaged by Boardwalk’s impressive laundry list of similarly overlooked silver screen actors given the well-deserved opportunity to steal focus on the small screen.
While all of the cast members have their moment to shine, regardless of the fact that most of the gangsters are interchangeable archetypes, in the first season of HBO’s latest smash hit, a new star emerges from the allegorical Greek Chorus of impending tragedy that’s begun to befall Nucky in the form of Michael Pitt.
A former protégé of Nucky’s that’s still trying to cope with the atrocities of World War I, Pitt’s Jimmy aims to rise in power from hired gun to associate of Al Capone, with a daring hijacking and engineering of multiple double cross standoffs between the east coast bootleggers.
Deadwood given its adherence to authenticity.
The Departed filmmaker Martin Scorsese and actor Mark Wahlberg among others, Boardwalk, which is bolstered by a dazzling visual style and painterly production design, is also at times – and unsurprisingly given the overlap in behind-the-scenes and occasional in-front-of-the-lens talent – incredibly reminiscent of Winter’s former HBO smash The Sopranos.
Additionally elevated by its exceedingly original casting which makes great use of promising, under-utilized or disappointingly miscast talent like Two Family House actress Kelly MacDonald, who – like Buscemi far exceeds her ho-hum role – former Entertainment Weekly dubbed “It Girl” Gretchen Mol, Dabney Coleman, Michael Stuhlbarg and others.
Although it easily exceeds the stuff of broadcast network TV dramas on sheer complexity alone, Boardwalk nonetheless misses the bar its raised by its home network of HBO years ago – long before Buscemi played Nucky – back when he pulled up a director’s chair on The Sopranos.
So vibrant in Blu-ray that it shimmers like a flapper in beads across your widescreen HDTV, HBO’s long-awaited first season home entertainment release of the Scorsese produced American crime saga is packed with more tricks than Houdini’s brother is given in an episode late in the game.
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