I regret to say I have finally finished watching "epic" television in the five seasons (56 hours) of BOARDWALK EMPIRE. The scope of history - from the adoption of the 18th Amendment's prohibiting the making, transporting, and selling of alcoholic beverages passed in 1919 through its repeal in 1933, and how it generated an industry run by criminals - names of gangster's that are still familiar to us, their brutality romanticized over time in film and television; Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Al Capone, Arnold Rothstein, etc. set against the backdrop of Atlantic City with satellite locations in NYC, Chicago and Miami.
The history of race relations, women's rights, workers rights, corrupt public servants and rigged elections are woven through the plot as broken, disillusioned soldiers return home from fighting in WW I; Presidential elections come and go as the nation slides into dissolution and the chaos of financial ruin. Names that are familiar to us such as J. Edgar Hoover, Eddie Cantor, Joe Kennedy (father of Jack) are characterized but not caricatured by a wonderful cast. When one great actor gets written out of the series, and I feel a deep disappointment, another one appears and gives an equally compelling performance.
Ambition, greed, sex, love and marriage - the range of uniquely varied personal interactions propels the plot into new directions as we witness the ebb and flow of time on a character's persona.There is an authenticity to the sense of place - from the shacks in the "negro" part of town to the lavishly decorated mansions of the power-brokers - each set design has intricate details that help delineate an accurate, sociological study of southern NJ coastal towns.
The cinematography is often exquisitely breathtaking, such as choreographed scenes of violence in the darkened light of night; the infinite expanse of water touching the Atlantic City shoreline with bursts of gunfire spawning fireworks of sharp white flashes, a resounding thunder of sound and visual effects, and then the quiet of death, red blood slowly puddling on the ground.
BOARDWALK EMPIRE has a superb cast: doe-eyed Steve Buscemi in the role of his life portraying Nucky Thompson - the "overlord" of Atlantic City - a man who “tried to be good” but reached for more and more money to maintain the lifestyle that he envied as a child, and eventually achieves at a terrible cost; Bobby Cannavale - great as the clinically insane gangster Gyp Rosetti whose id is let loose in horrific acts of violence; Michael K. Williams is heartbreaking - hard and pragmatic in business with a poetic, “romantic” side as “Chalky White” the son of a carpenter who was lynched by the very white men he was building cabinets for - Chalky runs the black part of town and teams up with Nucky in the bootlegging business; Jeffrey Wright as Dr. Valentin Narcisse, a disciple of Marcus Garvey whose actions belie his philosophical beliefs; the always terrific Michael Shannon as a fanatically religious federal Agent who loses his way; Stephen Graham as the explosive, vicious mobster, Al Capone; Kelly Macdonald as Margaret Thompson married to Nucky whose beauty blossoms while her innocence fades away; Gretchen Mol- a tragic figure as Gillian Darmody mother and lover of her son Jimmy played by Michael Pitt - a tragic tale of a woman who had to face life alone as a child battling sexual abuse among other acts that vulnerable children with no protectors are forced to endure; and a personal favorite Jack Huston-grandson of great director John Huston who comes home from the War with half his face blown off - hidden behind a mask - a complicated person whose sharp-shooting skills are put to use by the mob, but whose goodness prevails - if anyone takes the time to “look” at him.
I encourage you to take the time to view this series - it is true to the historical figures which are intertwined into this grand tale of the Prohibition era - post WWI up to pre WWII where money and power contaminated those who were supposed to be the guardians of the populace. Relationships between family members, husbands and wives, fathers and sons, sisters and brothers are all impacted by the vicissitudes of an age that tried to stamp down profligate behavior and ironically encouraged a much deeper amorality.