Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Boardwalk Empire Review

Scorcese's The Departed laid out the blueprint for Boardwalk Empire to fail. Now that he's an old Hollywood legend, he can somehow do no wrong. I thought the great directors were supposed to do porno after they peaked?

Scorcese was onto something with his early films. Mean Streets, Raging Bull, and Taxi Driver were raw and gritty. They had soul. And now he has perfected his style to the point that it isn't much more than seeing something which is technically sound but lacks the dazzle that once made it shine. He is past his prime.

Whereas he once made films with techniques that challenged conventions of cinema, he is now making over-stylized garbage. Granted this is tv (say what you will HBO, but it's all the same). But the audience of Boardwalk Empire's premier was subjected to a full hour and a half of relentless camera movement seemingly for no reason other than to keep a dimwitted viewer engaged. Boardwalk is nothing more than a hackneyed storyline of Steve Buscemi as a crooked politico alcohol cartel during prohibition. Some will draw inferences on the current prohibition of marijuana. If such symbolic ties exist by the hands of the filmmakers they are most likely light and superficial like the rest of this show... especially it's characters.

The story is predictable for Scorcese and for HBO. That's really all that needs to be said because if you are familiar with modern gangster shows Empire is the Soprano's with Steve Buscemi as the boss in the 1920s. But Buscemi is not a big scary mean looking mofo. He's a skimpy ugly sort of fellow that's made a name for himself playing poor schmucks. And if the general premise of Buscemi playing this particular lead isn't perculiar, imagine him somehow having the strength to smash a guy twice his size into a roulette table. Obviously nobody realized how this or many other little things simply did not work while they were filming. 

Buscemi is known for his talents as a character actor, however he has starred as the lead before. The one film which comes to mind is Tree's Lounge which he also directed. In that film handled himself fine in the big actor's (and director's) shoes. So what makes this perfectly capable actor come off so flatly?

Whether it's Scorcese's focus on the style of this project as opposed to the acting, or the awful dialogue, or the poor writing, Boardwalk Empire is a huge letdown. We're talking writing which gives characters problems that should make them pop out of their cardboard shell but said problems are so obvious that they are worse than having none at all. Typical by the books scriptwriting that should be offensive to a man of Scorcese's likes. From Paul Schrader to this!?!

Besides the awkward acting there are more than enough awkward jarring edits. How did these slip by Scorcese or the producers? The color correction is overdone to the point where some shots which might have had no CGI look full of it. CGI is distractingly fake looking and unappealing. But these are just a few more things to add to the list of Boardwalk's disappointments.

After hearing about this show I wanted for it to be good. I wanted the same while watching it. But as the premier progressed the quality control issues began to blare out of the television building up and expanding like the blood boiling under my skin.
The (Only) Good: The supporting role of a young Al Capone was a wonderful idea for this show. I have no idea if it is any bit historically accurate, nor do I care. Seeing the young version of an American legend is enough to make me want to watch another episode. The actor in this case nailed it. And I suppose any series can start off with a piss poor episode... so there's a chance it might get better.

The Bad: Steve Buscemi is looking like a miscast. Scorcese is way past his prime. He's directed this show before as a bunch of other movies, most of which are better than Boardwalk Empire.

The Ugly: The dialogue, the predictability of the story and characters, and the fact that it embodies the current Entourage mentality of fast cutting style over fresh writing and good acting. Somewhere in it's creation, this show managed to be birthed without an authentic soul.


Justin said...

OUCH. Agreed on some parts, but not on others - the story, now on ep. 7 is moving along really nicely - perhaps the subtleties are only now paying off as the series progresses. It might not be Raging Bull, but its definitely not Glee, neither! Keep writing these reviews, Jesse - they do offer a good perspective.

Anonymous said...

Subtleties? There are none. The characters are caricatures, and sadly that's not intentional.

Dialogue is frequently awful, and lacks authenticity. IN one episode a politician actually uses the word "BLOVIATING"!

THe Darmody character is blondely bland. At a visit to the doc to have his combat damaged knee examined, the doc says "It's possible one of the (surgical) screws is loose. Darmody actually says "ARe you saying I have a screw loose?" Doc says "I mean in your leg" Darmody: I was joking.

How about the Accent on the Rothstein character? Or on Lucky's kept woman?

Scorsese has to be kidding.
What hell happened...