Atlantic City in the 1920s, Prohibition, the Mob, the new Mass Media, this lux series from HBO is loaded with pretty irresistible stuff. ‘Created By’ Terence Winter, and ‘godfathered’ (pardon the pun) by Martin Scorsese, the construction of the sets and story is meticulous, the characterizations and general attitudes less so. Too often, the behavior feels out of place, as if the cast were auditioning for a GOODFELLAS sequel, blowing our chance to see the Birth of the Mob in all its ethnic variety, before the hard shell of self-promotion & myth-making media glare took over. And where did the peppy quick-step tempo of the era go? (Maybe they're tuckered out from all the sex on display?) Just as problematic is how arbitrarily the women's characterizations change to meet each week’s plotline, and in how they've made our lonely Fed Agent such a murdering psychotic religious basket case. But when the narrative drive is this strong, it hardly seems to matter. Especially with such a wonderfully eccentric choice as Steve Buscemi for the lead. Watching him pull the strings of power behind the curtain is more than enough to make up for a production staff that took three episodes to find a shade of lip gloss that worked for him.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Someone had the sweet idea to score much of the film with period songs (not so unlikely) using real period recordings of the time (very unlikely). It represents a larger sampling of acoustically recorded music than most HBO subscribers would normally hear in a lifetime. It’s such a good idea we can forgive them for slipping in a bit of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder decades before anyone had recorded it. (Less forgivable is degrading the sound quality of a famous Kathleen Ferrier recording for the task.)