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Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Second Season(TV) (2011)
Chronicles the life and times of Nucky Thompson, the undisputed ruler of Atlantic City, who was equal parts politician and gangster.
For more about Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Second Season and the Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray release, see Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on August 20, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Stephen Graham, Vincent Piazza, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon, Shea Whigham
» See full cast & crew
Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray Review
"I am not seeking forgiveness."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, August 20, 2012
Nucky Thompson is back with a vengeance, and a pile of Emmys, fighting to maintain his control of Prohibition-era Atlantic County as the vultures circle and the wolves close in. It's in these tense, at-times understated moments, with Nucky fending off the opposition and tightening his grip on whatever he lays his hands on, that Boardwalk Empire is at its finest, Steve Buscemi's high-rolling treasurer is at his most compelling, and the series that Scorsese built is at its most intriguing. And Season Two is chock full of those moments. Television may have already moved on to the Next Big Show, as Television tends to do -- ratings have settled in at a modest level, Emmy nominations dropped from eighteen to twelve, and buzz has slowly and, yes, surely diminished -- but HBO and series creator Terence Winter remain as diligent and determined as ever, delivering yet another must-see season of another must-see series on a premium cable network that specializes in must-see original programming.
January 16th, 1919. The 66th U.S. Congress ratifies the controversial 18th Constitutional Amendment, prohibiting the "manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors." October 28th, 1919. The House overrides President Woodrow Wilson's veto of the Volstead Act, a bill designed to grant authorities the power necessary to uphold the 18th Amendment. October 29th, 1919. The U.S. Senate agrees. The Volstead Act becomes law and the now-infamous Prohibition era is born. January 17th, 1920. Six armed men steal a shipment of medicinal whiskey valued at over $100,000. February 22nd, 1920. Bootlegging and liquor trafficking explodes. Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Jersey are the only states in the Union that still refuse to ratify the 18th Amendment. August 11th, 1920. Organized crime and government corruption, both state and local, are at an all time high. The United States learns that Prohibition doesn't curb crime; it fosters it.
These are the dark, dangerous times of Boardwalk Empire, Winter and executive producer Martin Scorsese's fascinating foray into the political and criminal underworlds of Atlantic County, New Jersey in the early 1920s. Backed by career defining performances from Buscemi and Michael Pitt, a formidable supporting cast, a talented team of writers and directors, and some of the finest period production design to ever grace a television series, it emerged as one of the most critically acclaimed dramas of 2010 and stands as one of the best television shows of 2011. Granted, Empire's first season required a bit of patience early on, but those who stuck with Scorsese and Winter for the long haul have been rewarded for their loyalty. Season One was strong, ending with a flurry of fantastic episodes, but Season Two is even better, steadily ramping up its momentum from beginning to end.
January, 1921. Commodore Louis Kaestner (Dabney Coleman), his son Jimmy Darmody (Pitt) and Nucky's younger brother Eli (Shea Whigham) begin beating on Nucky's door; with the Klu Klux Klan, a serious charge of election fraud and his subsequent arrest, rather than a polite knock. Nucky responds in kind with fire of his own, making his fight with the Commodore a full-fledged Jersey turf war. Business must go on, though, and the bootlegging business is booming. As one of Atlantic City's most powerful men, publicly and privately, Nucky finds himself being assaulted from all sides, be it his old partner in crime, his former protégé, his own blood, outside forces like Chicago's Al Capone (Stephen Graham), federal agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), or the countless other enemies amassing in his path and lining up around the block. But before the last cork is popped and the last shot is fired, Nucky will have blood on his hands and more control of the future of Atlantic City than even he anticipated.
Fearless as its first twelve episodes, Boardwalk Empire's sophomore season dispenses with introductions and deals exclusively in contention and conflict, bringing the weight of Nucky's sins to bear on his soul. It seems that crooked, calculating soul is impervious to everything but corruption, though, and, much like the Walter Whites and Tony Sopranos of the TV landscape, a frail, increasingly insatiable part of him enjoys it. Not that Nucky is easily compared to either White or Soprano, polar extremes as the heads of small criminal empires go. There's a certain reservation (some might mistake for hesitancy) that comes with everything Buscemi's weary eyed politico does, and an even deeper resignation when he crosses another line, moral or legal, to commit necessary evils. There's cancerous anger and arrogance, making his rule a volatile one. Heavy is the head and what not. But Thompson's crown isn't one he stumbled upon or was born to inherit. It's one of his own making and desire. And he's good, so good, at it. He's a natural, and it didn't take him a long time to come to terms with that fact. Nucky isn't amoral, or even a cruel or traditionally selfish man. He can be cruel. He operates out of greed. He sees opportunity and capitalizes, whatever the cost. But there's more there, just as there's more to most everyone he encounters in his dealings, that strips the criminals, lawmen, opportunists and victims of the series of absolutism and allows them to dwell in the murky gray in-between; including those who most resist the call of Atlantic County and its enterprising rogues.
None of that would matter, of course, if the series didn't retain its attention to historical detail and magnificent period production design, which it does. There's a fine line between historical accuracy and fictional liberty any showrunner or filmmaker must walk when attempting something on the scale and sophistication of Boardwalk Empire, and it's a line Winter, fellow executive producer Tim Van Patten and their writers take very, very seriously. Everything that enters the fray shouldn't be treated as gospel, no matter how authentic it may seem. Likewise, nothing on screen should be casually dismissed as a show writer's embellishment. Winter and his crew, perhaps better than any other period series to date, balance the needs of a respectable period piece with the needs of a riveting television show and produce something that incorporates and embraces both. The strength of Boardwalk Empire, much as it could be attributed to Buscemi, the look and feel of the show, or even its well-publicized season finale shocker (which I wouldn't dream of spoiling), really lies in its ability to stride confidently down that line without tipping the balance too far in either direction. It's a gorgeous show, backed by magnificent sets and smartly scouted locations, and its performances are just as magnificent, across the board no less. (Buscemi and Pitt may get the most attention but their are plenty of unsung heroes in the cast.) But none of that would matter if the showrunners and writers were interested in sensationalizing, bastardizing or ignoring the truth, historical or universal, behind the stories they're telling and the characters they're developing week in and week out.
Winter is fearless too, offing major players, clipping wings, and committing to the consequences of his characters' actions; a fearlessness that doesn't come from a need to titillate and excite but rather a very real devotion to the credibility and substance of the Prohibition saga being unfurled. He isn't afraid to allow darkness to infect the righteous or righteousness to infect his free moral agents. He also doesn't haphazardly showcase these attributes or failings to anyone, allowing his character's flaws to dictate their actions, not vice versa. (If that sounds fundamentally obvious, take a moment and think about the vast majority of shows on television today. Especially those that enjoy high ratings. Note how may of those shows allow a person's actions to define what should be driving those same actions. It's cart-before-the-horse scriptwriting and its dishearteningly common.) Winter braves his way along yet another fine line in an HBO series strung with fine lines, and you only need listen to one of Winter's commentaries to get a sense of how carefully measured each of his decisions and steps are. Boardwalk Empire isn't just entertainment, anymore than it's just steeped in history. Each episode exudes both a nuance and realism that go beyond the usual trappings and elevate it to something more than its twists, turns or surprise shootings might suggest. Winter knowingly rejects convention and still turns out captivating TV, something HBO has demonstrated its more than happy to foster.
Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray, Video Quality
HBO is out for blood. There's no other explanation. Alright, maybe there's more than one (a commitment to the consumer, high production standards, or excellent quality control, just to name a few). Whatever the case, HBO remains one of the most consistent studios when it comes to outstanding high definition AV presentations, and Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Second Season is no exception. Bolstered by an arresting 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer, the series continues to go above and beyond in every conceivable way. (Besides, how often can you type a sentence like that and not have to apologize for being hyperbolic?) Colors range from dusty to warm to rich (but are always quite lovely), skintones are lifelike and carefully saturated, black levels are earthy and foreboding, and contrast, barring a handful of tricky shots, is dialed in without issue. Detail is perhaps more striking, if only because nearly every inch of the production -- every floor board, vintage sign, stitch of clothing and nick of the razor captured in the series' original photography -- is preserved and presented without fail. Textures are refined and natural. Edges are clean and confidently defined (minus a scant few halos). Delineation is revealing without sacrificing the integrity of the shadows. And there isn't a hint of significant artifacting, banding, aliasing, or crush that might gum up the works. There's a bit of spiked noise but it's inherent to the source; there's a bit of softness too, but it's strictly of the filmic variety and nothing to be concerned with. Like its first season, Boardwalk Empire's second Blu-ray release is a beaut.
Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray, Audio Quality
No complaints here either. HBO has made a habit of offering up top-quality lossless tracks as well, so much so that the studio's audio mixes are often even more impressive than their top-quality video presentations. And, as most everyone should already expect by now, Boardwalk Empire's second season DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track (and sound design for that matter) is as immersive as its first season counterpart and just as absorbing as the image (and cinematography) it accompanies. Dialogue is clear, nicely weighted and perfectly prioritized, without a line lost or a voice quashed, even when the roaring '20s literally roar. LFE output is bold and breathtaking, infusing low-end heft with discerning know-how. A gunshot isn't a canned effect, it's a statement; a thunderous declaration of intent meant to disquiet and discomfort. It isn't treated lightly and carries with it the burden of contributing as much to the narrative as the dialogue it cuts off. The rear speakers are dead serious too. Winter and his team's production design is impressive; the depth, fullness, ambience and believability of the sets and locations featured even more so. Directionality boasts pinpoint precision, cross-channel pans are terrificly transparent, and each episode is as immersive as I imagine it could be. The crowds, the galas, the back-alley meetings, and all the establishments of Nucky's empire, above and underground, sound exactly as they should, and then some. There isn't a criticism to be leveled other than the oh-so-enveloping experience comes to an end after just twelve episodes. Boardwalk Empire sounds as good as it looks and looks as good as it sounds. It's a good day to be a reviewer.
Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Boardwalk Empire could have bored its returning audience (accustomed to slowburn dramas as HBO loyalists may be). It could have grown stale, lost its way, or taken the paths most traveled. Instead, the series' second season surpasses its first and takes Buscemi, Pitt and the rest of the cast and crew right along with it. Winter should be commended, just as the show should be watched. Again and again and again, until it's savored and appreciated. That won't be too difficult either, thanks to its must-own 5-disc Blu-ray release, jaw-dropping video presentation, involving DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, and satisfying supplemental package. Don't hesitate to add The Complete Second Season to your collection. Unless you don't own The Complete First Season, in which case: don't hesitate to add both seasons of Boardwalk Empire to your collection.
Boardwalk Empire: Other Seasons
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