I watched the Emmys a couple of weeks ago and when I saw the nominations (and wins) for Empire Falls, I immediately put it on my Must-See List – how can you go wrong with 1) HBO; 2) Paul Newman; 3) Joanne Woodward; and 4) Ed Harris?
Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name by Richard Russo, adapted for the screen by the author, my expectations were high. And the higher they go, the farther they fall. I haven’t read the book (and after this experience, doubt I will), so I’ll base my opinion strictly on the miniseries.
It’s not very good.
It’s said that clichés become clichés because they are true. It is unfortunate that the clichés in this miniseries are so trite. The characters are a collection of hackneyed, small-town “types”, complete with two-dimensional backstories that stereotypically create such types.
Herewith a few examples:
Sad-sack nice-guy hero (Ed Harris is horribly miscast – he has too strong a presence to convincingly do passive and only connects in the last quarter of the movie, after our hero gets his head out of his arse)
His saintly dead mother
His rascal of a petty-criminal father
His ex-wife, shrill with disappointment
The ruthless rich matriarch, who controls the entire town (Joanne Woodward manages to transcend the stereotype and infuses her character with purpose and enough steel to build an ocean liner)
Her daughter who as a result of a childhood accident has been left “as crippled in mind and spirit, as she was of limb” (get out the barfbags)
Etc., etc., ad nauseam.
Interspersed with tortured river metaphors (the town of Empire Falls lies on a river, nudge-nudge), the movie is a series of interminable chapters, all of which we’ve seen a hundred times before - and often done with more elegance, not to mention speed; the bleedin’ thing is 195 minutes long. We see the inevitable progression towards the nice guys redeemed or victorious and the bad guys getting their comeuppance. The Evil Matriarch meets an especially unoriginal end, which had me snorting in disgust.
Had less impressively stellar forces been involved in this, I'd have been less disappointed, but I expect more from actors and writers this good. Save the rental fee.