Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
10 Films Booed at Cannes That Every Cinephile Should See 10 Films Booed at Cannes That Every Cinephile Should See 5 Things You Didn't Know About Lars von Trier, Who's Going Back to Work 5 Things You Didn't Know About Lars von Trier, Who's Going Back to Work The Eerie Connection Between 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' and 'Tomorrowland' The Eerie Connection Between 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' and 'Tomorrowland' Digging Into the Cannes Lineup: More Vet Auteurs and Women, No Netflix Digging Into the Cannes Lineup: More Vet Auteurs and Women, No Netflix Ryan Gosling in Talks for 'Blade Runner' Sequel, Damien Chazelle's 'La La Land' Ryan Gosling in Talks for 'Blade Runner' Sequel, Damien Chazelle's 'La La Land' You Can Now Read Over 200,000 Leaked Sony Emails and Documents You Can Now Read Over 200,000 Leaked Sony Emails and Documents Watch: The New 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Trailer Has Landed Watch: The New 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Trailer Has Landed Watch the Teaser Trailer for Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' Watch the Teaser Trailer for Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' Watch: This Exclusive Tribeca Trailer Promises a Vérité Southern Gothic in Malick Vein Watch: This Exclusive Tribeca Trailer Promises a Vérité Southern Gothic in Malick Vein 7 Things to Learn from 'Mad Men' Creator Matthew Weiner About Compelling Storytelling (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO) 7 Things to Learn from 'Mad Men' Creator Matthew Weiner About Compelling Storytelling (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO) 'Queen of Earth,' Starring a Gloriously Unhinged Elisabeth Moss, Goes to IFC 'Queen of Earth,' Starring a Gloriously Unhinged Elisabeth Moss, Goes to IFC Cary Fukunaga Takes Over Long-Stalled 'The Alienist' as TV Series Cary Fukunaga Takes Over Long-Stalled 'The Alienist' as TV Series Why the Istanbul Film Festival Cancelled Its 2015 Competition Why the Istanbul Film Festival Cancelled Its 2015 Competition The Dramatic Story Behind Satyajit Ray's 50s Masterpiece 'The Apu Trilogy' (Exclusive) The Dramatic Story Behind Satyajit Ray's 50s Masterpiece 'The Apu Trilogy' (Exclusive) MTV Movie Awards 2015: The Highs, the Lows and the Winners List (Videos) MTV Movie Awards 2015: The Highs, the Lows and the Winners List (Videos) Arthouse Audit: 'Ex Machina' Leads Four Big Openers, Kristen Stewart Opens 'Clouds of Sils Maria' Arthouse Audit: 'Ex Machina' Leads Four Big Openers, Kristen Stewart Opens 'Clouds of Sils Maria' The New Ladder: Anatomy of Indie Women's Picture 'Farah Goes Bang' The New Ladder: Anatomy of Indie Women's Picture 'Farah Goes Bang' Here's the First Image of Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix in Woody Allen's 'Irrational Man' Here's the First Image of Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix in Woody Allen's 'Irrational Man' Kristen Stewart Explains How She Held Her Own with Juliette Binoche in 'Sils Maria'--and Won a Cesar Kristen Stewart Explains How She Held Her Own with Juliette Binoche in 'Sils Maria'--and Won a Cesar Scientists Choose the 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies Ever Scientists Choose the 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies Ever

TV IS THE NEW CINEMA: Williams, Wright and Bingham Revitalize 'Boardwalk Empire' Season Four

Thompson on Hollywood By David Chute | Thompson on Hollywood October 30, 2013 at 6:20AM

A lethal triangle formed by Michael Kenneth Williams, Jeffrey Wright and femme fatale Margot Bingham has made "Boardwalk Empire" fun to watch again.
3
Margot Bingham as Daughter Maitland on "Boardwalk Empire"
HBO Margot Bingham as Daughter Maitland on "Boardwalk Empire"

Having just about given up on "Boardwalk Empire," I've been pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying it again -- in part, I suspect, because I haven't been putting a lot of pressure on it to be great. I tune in to watch the entertaining actors and to bask in the smoke-filled atmosphere of a period gangster story. Relax and enjoy; always a serviceable approach to entertainment.

Some major historical events are being pre-figured this season: in some scenes set in Florida and in a New York investment office, we're watching swindlers lay the groundwork for the stock market crash that will bring on the great Depression. And in a subplot about increasing rancorous personality conflicts among Chicago mobsters, Al Capone's imminent take over from Johnny Torrio is being hinted at. (I'm looking forward to watching Stephen Graham's Capone graduate to full blown psychosis as the power goes to his head.)

'Boardwalk Empire'
'Boardwalk Empire'

But the sensuous evocation of the period, built up with great care from details of decor, costume, hairstyles and language, is the main attraction -- especially in the parallel plot involving the efforts of Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) to maneuver away from a power grab being orchestrated by Valentine Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright), a well-spoken club owner and gangster whose front organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, has complex Back to Africa overtones.

Theater critic Hilton Alls, writing in The New Yorker, correctly admires the show for presenting "an entirely authentic nineteen-twenties Negro world, part Harlem Renaissance perversity and part 'Macbeth,' all without sacrificing style." He's also right about Wright ("complex, brilliant, and real—-so sexy in his nefarious, 'proper' behavior") and also in his enthusiasm for this season's great discovery, jazz singer Margot Bingham, as a Cotton Club-style flapper femme fatale who seduces Chalky but reports to Narcisse.

Als is dead wrong, however, about  Michael Williams, and in a way that suggests that this eminent theater critic has a bit of a blind spot when it comes to a classic type of recessive American screen acting. "With a face nearly frozen in a sneer," Als writes, "(Williams) looks out at us through a mask of what he thinks an angry black man is supposed to look like, as opposed to showing how his character might feel if threatened, or made vulnerable by love." How could a writer with such an enormous reputation be so completely full of shit?

It was, I think, Bryan Cranston, in a recent interview (although the actual quotation has gone AWOL), who said that the most powerful acting is always done internally, in the confidence that its effects will be visible on the surface. That's point one.

Jeffery Wright's more external acting style, which Als seems to favor, works well for his portrayal of Narcisse, who is a flamboyant manipulator with theatrical ambitions. But Williams is excellent also, allowing wounded pride and even fear to show through Chalky's unyielding hard front. An illiterate self-made man, Chalky has bristled from the first at being patronized by this ostentatiously educated West Indian "doctor."

Williams absolutely allows us to notice (rather than "showing" us) Chalky's vulnerability to love, when Bingham's Daughter Maitland enters the picture. Everything about Maitland is lush, from her figure to her torchy singing voice, and Bingham deploys her assets with great subtlety. Daughter is seductive almost unconsciously, without seeming to work at it. This is no one-note "bombshell" performance. Bingham keeps things firmly grounded even in the scenes depicting her creepy crawly relationship with surrogate father figure Narcisse.

A hopeful note struck struck at the end of Sunday's episode, "The Old Ship of Zion," may have contained an element of wish fulfillment, unless an apparent shift of loyalty that seems farfetched, coming from the part of the always-practical Daughter, is really another sort of pre-figuring-- a hint at things to come on a show in which several changes of leadership seem to be looming. I think we can trust her-- to always know which way the wind is blowing.

This article is related to: Boardwalk Empire, Jeffrey Wright, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael K. Williams, TV Reviews, Reviews, Television


E-Mail Updates