Image A- Sound A+ Extras A
"Boardwalk Empire," "The Ivory Tower," "Broadway Limited," "Anastasia," "Nights in Ballygran," "Family Limitation," "Home," "Hold Me in Paradise," "Belle Femme," "The Emerald City," "Paris Green," "A Return to Normalcy"
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Two things right off the bat about HBO's "Boardwalk Empire". First, the Martin Scorsese who directed the pilot would eat the tedious old guy who made Hugo for lunch. Second, for as good as the first season turns out to be, it's based almost entirely on the strength of a cast minimizing the disappointment of opportunities lost. Even the actors, though, can be something of a liability, in that the mere presence of Michael Shannon cues us that straitlaced, proto-Untouchable Agent Nelson Van Alden is on his way to becoming a full-blown nutter. The premise is tired, too, as almost a century's remove from the 1920s American gangster cycle has made the whole genre exhausted. There are no new delights in a midnight Tommy-gun execution in the woods, or an unhinged Guido unloading on a hapless shopkeeper. There's not much joy, either, in trainspotting the parade of gangsters, the Lucky Lucianos (Vincent Piazza) and Al Capones (Stephen Graham, late of Public Enemies) and Meyer Lanskys (Anatol Yusef), partly because if you're a student of gangland history, you're immediately cued to their fates. Implanted spoilers, if you will. The real revelations of "Boardwalk Empire" are Jack Huston as a mutilated WWI doughboy and Gretchen Mol, who spent the first half of her career as Cameron Diaz's haircut (see also: Malin Akerman) but emerges in this venue as an actress of complexity and intelligence. It's enough to wonder what the series might have been were the casting not so otherwise on the nose--a strange liability, I know.