Boardwalk Empire, End of First Season Review
Boardwalk Empire Season 1 has just finished airing here in the UK on Sky ATLANTIC and what a roller coaster it has been. Lets take a look back over the series, trying not to drop any major spoilers.
From the pen of Terence Winter, the Emmy Award winner behind The Sopranos and Hollywood giant Martin Scorsese, Boardwalk Empire is set in Atlantic City in the 1920’s. It is the birth of Prohibition when the sale and consumption of alcohol became illegal across the entire United States.
On the shores of New Jersey, Atlantic City is a fantastic resort dubbed ‘The Worlds Playground’, a place where for a few dollars a normal man could live and party like a King; legally or illegally. Atlantic City’s boardwalk is strewn with nightclubs, Hotels and Theatres with entertainment rivaling anything Broadway can throw at it.
The King of Atlantic City is Enoch Thompson (Steve Buscemi), Nucky to his friends. Treasurer of the town, Nucky is a back room fixer, made in equal measures – 1 part politician, 1 part gangster. Because of the City’s unique geographical position it is a real lynch pin in the distribution of liquor to and from the major cities around it – New York, Chicago and Philly. A position that Nucky takes full advantage of, by any means necessary.
Along with his Brother Elias (Shea Whigham) the towns Sheriff and a crew of local thugs and gangs, Nucky carves out a real name for himself. He is THE man to see if it is illegal alcohol you desire. Nucky manages to do business with all sides of the gangster world, he is definitely NOT fussy or prejudiced, dealing with Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), Big Jim Colisimo (Frank Crudele), Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) and a young Al Capone (Stephen Graham).
The season begins with Nuckys protage Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) returning from the Great War, eager to reclaim his place in the organization and work his way up the system. Unfortunately for Jimmy, things do not go quite according to plan, he is just a driver to Nucky. Jimmy takes things into his own hands and takes up an alliance with Al Capone causing a disastrous outcome for Nucky and his allies. Federal Agent Van Alden (Michael Shannon) is hot on Thompson’s tail and determined to make someone pay the sins of Atlantic City. Pair this with the complicated relationship Nucky strikes up with Mrs Margaret Shroeder, a woman Nucky tries to help out of a violent marriage, and we have the start of a great story.
I won’t go into details of the plots, twists and turns of the season. The character arc’s that are set on their course after the Scorsese directed pilot are tremendous.
The show was criticized for a slow start. That it just plodded along. I agree in some ways that was a slow burner, but the story moved on so far through highs and lows for all the characters, that I greatly enjoyed the show. I can wait to see where we will be next season. Will Nucky be able to keep the wolves at bay? Will Mrs Shroeder stand by her sinner man?
Stand out performances for me came from Steve Buscemi and Michael Shannon. Buscemi is brilliant at the cash happy pseudo gangster who doesn’t get his hands dirty. He plays both sides so well that it is impossible to judge who is the real Nucky Thompson. Through the season you get to see more and more of the layers that make up his driven character. There is so much more than meets the eye of this character. His past is a shady as the dodgy bootlegging deals he constructs.
On the other end of the scale we have Shannon as the obsessive Federal Agent Van Alden, on God’s Path to cleanse the world of sinners. He plays it so straight and scary that I really thought he was going to explode towards the end and turn to evil. It may come across as over zealous in pursuit of the law, but it soon become apparent that the LAW is the last thing on his mind and it is all about being zealous in pursuing a principle. We get glimpses of his inner demons when he goes off the rails for one episode, drinking and picking up a broad. Soon comes back into line, just a little bit more off centre than he was with his views on what is good and evil. From this performance I am really interested in seeing him in the upcoming Superman film, in which he has been cast as ZOD.
If I am honest there isn’t really a weak link in the chain though with stunning acting and writing all round. So many complex characters.
The costume design and scenery is really well done. I am very much a fan of the era, I would gladly wear the fancy suits 24/7 if I got a chance. Although I think I may be slightly over dressed for sitting at the computer.
If you like gangsters, and are interested in the history of America’s most famous wise guys then this is definitely the show for you. I would recommend hunting it down from somewhere as it is a keeper!!
A very good friend of mine Vanessa from themovieness.com informed me that they are starting to shoot the second series. I for one am very excited to see it start-up again. It is going to be a long summer. Hurry it up HBO!