The music taps and freaks, the trumpets squeak, the beat is wobbly. People fidget quickly and cheerfully across the dance floor. Cheeky sole, shrill laughter, because you’re alive, hurray! And you have the feeling that you have to fill a whole week with life every day. World War I is forgotten, America is young and big and beautiful and Atlantic City is its wildest, wickedest place – with sex, foxtrot, casinos and wild drinking parties. On the party mile on America’s east coast, thousands rush into the turn of the year 1920.
City Treasurer Thompson pulls the whiskey sticks
Everything would be wonderful if it weren’t for these rural Protestants, the people from the Anti-Saloon League, who have no sense of the needs of the townspeople. As of January 16, 1920, alcohol is banned in the USA – by the 18th Amendment to the American Constitution.
Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, the city treasurer of Atlantic City, gives public speaking against the brown devil in the bottle. But he already pulls the strings behind the scenes behind the scenes, he will become the king of the “speakeasys”, the whisper bars in which it has to be quiet so that the cops outside don’t notice.
Nucky’s Atlantic City is just a short hop from New York and Chicago is within easy reach. Big money is waiting for all daring people here, be it Irish or Italian, Jewish or black.
The five seasons “Boardwalk Empire” kept the quality
Martin Scorsese, a master of gangster and mafia films since the 1973 film “Hexenkessel”, directed the $ 20 million pilot for the series “Boardwalk Empire” in 2010, and with Mark Wahlberg he remained “Executive Producer” of the series, and was with it another big Hollywood name in the burgeoning American television operations of the decade.
“Boardwalk Empire” drew seven million viewers from the start on pay-TV in the United States. The community stayed loyal because the series kept its quality with each season. And because it was just fantastic entertaining to look at – according to Scorsese – “the dark side of the American dream”.
“Boardwalk Empire” – all seasons are available for streaming in the Sky portfolio as well as old-fashioned on DVD – is atmospherically dense, luxuriously furnished and grandiose played right down to the supporting roles: The fate of the corrupt politicians and cops, the showgirls, whores, whiskey distillers and whiskey smugglers develop a tremendous pull.
There’s Richard Harrow (Jack Huston), a man whose face was shot to death in World War II and who goes his own joyless path until love meets him in season three. There is James Darmody (Michael Pitt), son of a young, sensual mother who is all too sensual to him and a foster son of Nucky’s who threatens to fatally stand in the way of his sponsor.
And there is Nelson van Alden (Michael Shannon), a deeply religious agent in the Prohibition Office who hunts the immoral with passion, falls deeply both privately and professionally and soon has to make ends meet as a representative for irons.
Buscemi’s figure has a historical model
And there are all the formidable gangsters and crooks: the blasé, the choleric, the sadistic and: Nucky – the gangster as a tragic hero. The figure is based on the actual Atlantic City treasurer, Nucky Johnson, who controlled Pierstadt from 1911 until his arrest in 1941.
How many characters in the HBO series have real role models and some appear under their real names – Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza), Arnold “The Brain” Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), Jewish New York mobster from Kosher Nostra, or “ Scarface ”Al Capone (Stephen Graham), the Chicago godfather’s aspiring chauffeur.
Buscemi’s vampiric sad smile is second to none
Nobody in Hollywood has a vampiric black ribbon smile like Steve Buscemi, who started out as a stand-up comedian and was a movie favorite of Quentin Tarantino, who cast him in “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction”. For the Coen brothers he played in “Fargo”, “Hudsucker” and the cult piece “The Big Lebowski”. But Nucky Thompson is the role that Buscemi had to wait 30 years for.
And he perfectly plays the masquerade of a criminal who is officially a highly respected member of society. Again and again he finds the good person in himself, the helper in need and defender of the family. He got his wife Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) – with blood in the right place, of course – and their children from her husband, a thug. He remains loyal to his brother Eli (Shea Whigham), even after an unforgivable betrayal.
He still has to become a complete gangster, because “You can’t be half a gangster” is what Jimmy Darmody modifies him at the sudden end of his young life. Yes, important characters die as unexpectedly in “Boardwalk Empire” as in HBO’s fantasy series epic “Game of Thrones”, which started the following year.
A gangster war begins in the third season
From the third season, the dispute with his opponent, the unpredictable Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale), grows into a gang war in which new alliances are formed, in which children die and sheriffs burn. Rosetti takes control of the town of Tabor Heights, thereby blocking the only ice-free alcohol route between Atlantic City and New York, which Nucky’s whiskey trucks can use for their transports even in winter.
The antihero is thrown back on its very existence. All episodes end with a cliffhanger that pulls the audience into the next. Bingers who haven’t checked their clocks for the five seasons of this series are still hanging around Atlantic City at dawn. And have a tired day ahead of them.
The villain becomes extremely sympathetic to the viewer
Show the villain at the table, show him with his children, show how he does evil to prevent worse things from happening, show him responsible and loving, show how he cries – and he will grow dear to everyone. It’s the same effect that ties you to Buscemi’s Thompson – very much like Marlon Brando’s 1972 “Godfather” Don Vito Corleone. The whole gangster is completely personable. Yes, you even like some of the worst gallows in “Boardwalk Empire”. Even Al Capone has his moments when he takes a crying child in his arms and comforts him.
At the end of season three, Nucky threw away his carnation, the cemetery flower that is his emblem. “It’s over,” he says to Brother Eli. “We couldn’t stop.” Of course, he was still two seasons away from the end of a series that fans would have wanted to see until St. Never’s Day and a second and third round of which is also worthwhile.
Long live the Roaring Twentys (we’re already into the next one, and they’re turbulent again in other ways). Long live America’s Wild East.
“Boardwalk Empire”, five seasons, by Terence Winter, produced (among others) by Martin Scorsese, Mark Wahlberg, with Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon, Michael Pitt, Gretchen Mol, Bobby Cannavale (on Sky, on DVD and BluRay)