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Luck - Season 1 (HBO) [DVD] 
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HBO presents this provocative original series set in the worlds of horseracing and gambling. Created and executive produced by David Milch (Deadwood), legendary director Michael Mann (Heat, Public Enemies) and Carolyn Strauss, this one-hour drama series centers on Chester 'Ace' Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), an intuitive tough guy with a long history in dirty pool. Recently released after three years in prison, Ace and his longtime chauffeur (Dennis Farina) craft a complex plan to reverse the sagging fortunes of a California racetrack. Meanwhile, four dissolute gamblers at the track pool their resources in an effort to win an elusive Pick Six bet while a weathered trainer (Nick Nolte) sees a second chance in an untested thoroughbred. The stellar cast also includes: John Ortiz, Richard Kind, Kevin Dunn, Jason Gedrick, Ritchie Coster, Ian Hart, Tom Payne, Kerry Condon and Jill Hennessy.
Billed as the complete first season boxset, but in fact the only season the show is going to get, Luck was cut short by issues with the production that were well-reported at the time. It’s a shame, too. While it takes the show a little while to build up, this is a weighty, serious piece of television drama, one that’s dripping with quality.
The star names certainly do it no harm. Dustin Hoffman takes the lead here as a man just released from prison, who decides to try and turn around a California-based racetrack. Immediately, Hoffman is magnetic too, portraying a character based boasting many shades of grey. Nick Nolte gets a juicy role, too, as a horse trainer desperately trying to find success.
Horse racing, and the gambling that surrounds it, proves to be rich pickings for Luck. It takes a lot of time to get things into place, and inevitably, some will be left a little cold by its patient approach. But it’s a complex drama that it’s building up here, with lots of characters, and several narratives at work.
It’s quality, ambitious television, on a disc released backed with substantive extra features. On top of commentary tracks, there are some interesting behind the scenes documentaries to digest here. It’s a rounded, carefully crafted package, for a show that deserves the attention. --Jon FosterSee all Product description
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Luck certainly follows this pattern. The first few episodes left me reeling, desperately trying to piece together character motivations and backgrounds through their sparse yet convoluted interactions. The sheer number of characters, as well as the reliance on the kind of language found on and around the racetrack, meant I struggled at first to get to grips with things. Then, all of a sudden, it just clicked. There was a moment, and I couldn't say when exactly, when I realised that the dialogue should just be allowed to unfold, to just let it wash over you; what you pick up, you pick up, and anything you miss you can usually piece together yourself anyway. Emotions are often conveyed simply through characters' facial expressions and how they behave around one another. The fact that Ace and Gus, arguably the show's two main anchors, often fall asleep at night in one another's company after discussing business is a prime example of Luck's 'show, don't tell' approach. It is incredibly layered and nuanced in this respect.
This has, of course, turned a lot of people away from the show. Others claim that it is far too slowly paced, or that 'nothing ever happens'. This is simply not true. There is always the sense that something is going on, even if you don't quite know what. Some have even said that this is the worst show HBO has ever produced, which isn't remotely true - it just has a very specific target audience, that are willing to stick with it and allow it to develop. It definitely won't appeal to everyone due to the subject matter. I'll concede that the first few episodes are mostly about laying the groundwork for the ones that follow.
However, as others before me have already said, after Episode 4 you should know whether or not you'll continue to watch. The fourth episode features one of the finest moments I have ever seen on TV at any time; it is a moment of rare beauty that perfectly encapsulates what Luck is all about, and will either solidify your belief in the series or will turn you off it forever.
I find it hard to fault the acting, the direction or the writing talent behind the show. Michael Mann, as Executive Producer, brings his unique visual style to the series, and it really pays off, particularly during the horse races themselves. You really feel like you're there, on the track. The races are thrilling and terrifying in equal measure - there's always the fear that something will go badly wrong. And it's always great watching the characters' reactions during the races - you feel overjoyed when they win, and just as devastated when they lose. It really is awe-inspiring stuff.
In the end, 'Luck' is a show about a marginalised sport, a dying way of life and a different class of people. It is as majestic as it is gritty. It is about flawed characters trying to get even, stake their claim and put their lives back together, as well as all the difficulties and dangers this entails. It is about seizing the opportunities that life throws at you and running with them. There is a real sense of dread, the feeling that these characters will not get out unscathed, and that despite all their good intentions things will never just go smoothly. What fun would it be if they did?
All I can really say is to give it a chance. A drama about horse-racing isn't something I would usually go for, and yet I found myself loving it. It's hypnotic and compelling, and it makes me happy to know that mature, story-driven television isn't dead yet.
Luck is an exceptionally well-crafted and immensely stylish story which intertwines the narratives of a number of different character groupings (each individually compelling) to culminate in a completely resolved and satisfying tale about the rich variety of types associated with the American Horse Racing community. This is a rich subset of U.S. culture and we get to see how the whole complex race track world operates, high and low. A huge, commercial business comprised of many strata, in broad terms the Racing Community falls into the horse people and the gamblers. It turns out that horses and graft make for a heady mix and the character of the series is defined by the particular aesthetic evolved out of this. You don't need to know anything about the scene going into it to enjoy what is revealed.
Indeed, initially the complexities of some of the betting combined with the unfamiliar racing lingo left me slightly unsure as to what was going on at points, but if you just go with it, you find it doesn't matter because the narrative action isn't dependent upon the technicalities the characters themselves are involved with. The emotional sense informing character behaviour is beautifully delineated and dramatically involving; providing your handle on what's happening --as you would expect from this calibre of production. It's no surprise that Dustin Hoffman was attracted to it to such an extent that he wanted to produce as well as perform in it. So any possible points of confusion arising from the unfamiliar scenario are thus always only temporary and staying on track is actually effortless because the writing is so sure-footed. The different story threads are beautifully articulated giving the whole a richness which develops over the course of the series to deliver a much more satisfying experience than is the norm.
Obviously though, if you expect your TV drama to be spoon-fed you every second of the way, you may experience a little frustration (as apparently seems to have happened for some Amazon customers) but I believe the vast majority of viewers will experience no undue problems with this ride. If you give it a chance, it's not only painless but actually lot of fun: pleasures abound for anyone up for it.
Excitement comes from the gangsters (memorably nasty and violent) and the dynamic nature of the races of course. These are wonderfully captured: a visceral visual evocation the like of which I have never seen done better on the big screen. You are right in there with the jockeys and the climactic story bits focussing on races (usually occurring once or twice per episode) involve some of the most accomplished film editing you will ever see: superb, gripping sequences. All the different directors rose to this challenge set by Michael Mann's own example in the lead episode and evidently relished the opportunity of capturing such a tricky subject with panache. It's done consistently well every time. The horses inevitably emerge as exciting and gorgeous things to look at whether you could care less about horse-racing. Little girls really ought not to be watching this sort of adult series I suppose, but you can be sure that if they did catch the races in this show, all over the country they would be falling in droves; utterly smitten by these beautiful equine racing machines.
Although the Hoffman character Ace Bernstein provides a riveting central story thread at the top end of the gambling strata of this world of the Track, for me the most engaging story aspect focusses on the quartet of reprobates referred to as the Degenerates --professional, compulsive, scumbag gamblers forming themselves into a syndicate horse-owner team. These guys are the funniest, most watchable group of characters I can recall seeing in ages. This astonishingly memorable team could star in a show of its own. Watching their interactions throughout the series is fantastically compelling viewing. Top character actors relishing the opportunity to get their teeth into a first-rate script, they also typify how the cast throughout the production is exceptionally strong. Lots of faces I hadn't seen before turn in top-notch supporting performances. So many striking, fresh-looking characters emerge delivering nuanced memorable dialogue in a screenplay which expresses the writer David Milch's intimate knowledge and love of the Track. His writing on this show achieves a sort of poetic articulation of a certain type of contemporary American vernacular form. This is a point referenced more than once by commentators and I don't think it's hype. The writing on this series is work of real maturity and class. That's clearly what's inspired the performances --both before and behind the camera.
In a final rant, I also need to say that the top notch production also extends to the soundtrack. Not sure who the guy was responsible for the scoring, but this show contains the coolest music cues too. A superb series.
I saw the whole set of 9 episodes over the course of a couple of nights and found it a totally involving immersion into a subset of U.S. culture unfamiliar to me: a fresh and an extremely entertaining experience. Enervating even. I think it's easily as good as anything HBO have produced before (better than most) and I don't understand the decision not to proceed with developing a second season. I assume this must have something to do with the politics of U.S. T.V. (about which I know nothing and care less to learn about). All I can say from a fan's perspective is that the decision clearly has nothing to do with a creative shortfall in the show's production. I've never seen a better shot, acted and above all, written show. Judging these things is subjective of course, but personally, I found it to be faultless. Indeed, as an example of creative film-making, I think it simply excels in every respect and stands as yet another instance of how, when the Yanks want to show us how its done, they appear to be able to do so with an apparently effortless ease. So to lose out on more seasons from such a stellar production team is very disappointing indeed. Very much our loss.
At least we fans can be grateful for what we've got here though --a series which I suspect will accrue a strong dedicated following in years to come. Nerds one and all of course, but enthusiasts nevertheless; energised with that near mystical inner glow that the movers and shakers of this planet's screen entertainment ignore at their peril. So you just better watch-out HBO, because we're sitting here. And in most cases, putting on weight.
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And after watching this beautifully-crafted series I prefer the four "degenerate gamblers" to the "upper...Read more
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