Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season [Blu-Ray]

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season [Blu-Ray]
Prohibition-era Atlantic City gets a pristine restoration courtesy of HBO and producer/first episode director Martin Scorsese. In the gorgeously shot and designed, but occasionally narratively lackadaisical, series, Steve Buscemi inhabits the immaculately tailored suits of Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, politician, gangster and savvy puppet master of America's hedonism capital. His unchecked profiteering is the nexus of a web of sex, violence and shady politics that the emotional turmoil of the expansive cast of characters spirals from. Michael Pitt plays Jimmy Darmody, a wounded war vet turned muscle for Nucky's black market liquor running operation. Jimmy and a young powder keg by the name of Al Capone (Stephen Graham) are involved in an incident that attracts the attention of religious zealot FBI agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon, swinging for the fences with every line), who's dying to dry up all the nasty boozing and whoring the city thrives on. In one way or another, who does and doesn't know the truth of this situation drives the primary plot of the series, but it's not the story so much as the meticulous reconstruction of the time period and the strength of a handful of characters that make Boardwalk Empire worth visiting. Buscemi gives a nuanced performance as Thompson and the show is at its best when he's onscreen. His tangled relationship with Irish immigrant and prominent member of the Temperance Movement Margaret Schroder (Kelly McDonald) is a fascinating portrayal of mutual self-deceit and moral repurposing. Some characters that were slow to show depth in the pilot, like Jimmy, Al and Van Alden, benefit from the unexpected revelations of their assorted demons and insecurities, others, like Nucky's air-brained arm candy, Lucy (Paz De La Huerta), and the perpetually smirking Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza), are little more than attractive pieces of well-placed scenery. And there's no shortage of gorgeous sights to be had. The lighting, cinematography and set and costume design are immaculate, treating every episode aesthetically like it'll be seen on the big screen. Since the appeal of Boardwalk Empire is more dependent upon the setting and personalities than an engrossing story, it's no surprise the series is based upon historical text. In an account in one of the many "Enhanced Viewing Mode" interview segments the Blu-Ray includes, creator Terence Winter expresses his determination to find the story among all those facts that would give the series a green light, affording him the opportunity to work with his hero, Martin Scorsese. There is, predictably and justly, a lot of fawning over Scorsese's involvement from the cast and crew in the exhaustive special features. In addition to the aforementioned "Enhanced Viewing" for each episode, which runs on an icon-based timeline that allows the viewer to skip between full versions of musical pieces, factoids of supporting history and discussions on how certain scenes were shot and planned, along with other tidbits of information, there are a number of commentary tracks with Winter and other cast and crew members scattered over this five-disc set. Disc four houses a 30-minute documentary, in which the creators and assorted historians wax philosophical on the importance of fashion on the boardwalk, among myriad other topics. A separate tour of the speakeasies today that used to be supplied with liquor by Atlantic City is hosted by a collection of cast members, including Michael Stuhlbarg, a scene-stealer as NYC gambling kingpin Arnold Rothstein. To set your eyes swimming in more pinstriped suits, the fifth disc has "Making Boardwalk Empire," in which a great many sentiments are reiterated and clips recycled, but the sparse high definition behind the footage is novel. Finally, there's a detailed look at the building of the boardwalk set, which expands on the time-lapse construction shots of the previous feature. If immersion is what you want, this package gives it to you. (Warner)