“Empire” is so close to succeeding that you can see it from here. This is Empire Review & Movie Summary. Stay tuned…
“Empire Review” is so close to succeeding that you can see it from here. It has the appropriate attitude and opening premise, but it lacks zeal and opts for a plot surprise rather than trusting the material.
I recently saw “Goodfellas,” and this picture is similar in that it is about the rise and fall of a gangster, recounted by himself, and compounded by a wife who walks out when she discovers him with another woman. And “Empire” has a story hook that could have turned this into a masterpiece.
Victor Rosa (John Leguizamo) is a prominent drug distributor with a Puerto Rican heritage who controls territory in the Bronx. In a detailed, fact-filled voice-over, he describes his environment.
He works for La Colombiana (Isabella Rossellini), a wealthy suburbanite with a nasty enforcer. He knows the industry inside and out; turf fights aren’t necessary when “20 feet of sidewalk = 30 grand a week, easy.” He has feelings for Carmen (Delilah Cotto), a college student.
Victor is on the rise. He works with tough street people and is tough himself, a murderer, but we sense inner goodness attempting to emerge, a yearning to better himself.
Carmen, his girlfriend, meets Trish (Denise Richards) at school one day and is invited to Trish’s boyfriend, Jack’s, party (Peter Sarsgaard). He’s a hotshot young Wall Street whiz drawn to Victor’s criminal glam: “We’re the same…”.
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He offers Victor the opportunity to invest in a sure thing, an offshore venture that will quadruple his money, and tells Trish: “He works in business. He’d be the CEO of a Fortune 500 firm if he was born in the suburbs.” Victor’s intentions include investing with Jack.
Carmen is pregnant, and he wants to launder his drug money, hand over the operation to his top lieutenant, and relocate to Manhattan with her. When Jack offers him the use of a luxury loft, he takes it; he sees himself becoming a legitimate investor like Jack.
Carmen isn’t convinced. “This loft will never be home for me,” she says of her previous neighborhood. Not after Victor becomes despondent one day, Jack dispatches the obedient Trish to cheer him up, and Carmen walks in on them. When Victor says, “it’s not what it appears to be,” he’s telling the truth, but tell that to Carmen.
So we’ve got the setup. I’m not going to spoil the reward or the twist. To do so, go to apple.com/trailers and watch the trailer, which gives away the surprise with a heedlessness that is surprising even in these days of trailers that say too much.
To protect the film’s mysteries, I shall coach my criticism gently. What upset me was that the film did not stick to its original idea of depicting a clever, resourceful drug dealer seeking to start over on Wall Street. Is it conceivable? Is the high-finance club accessible to non-members?
Is Wall Street even dirty than drug dealers, with more ruthless criminals? The possibility exists at a time when CEOs have directed their accountants to steal billions from American stockholders.
But no. The film lacks the ambition and audacity to make the moral critique of American finance that it appears to be aiming for. Instead, it settles for a series of events that will be familiar to fans of similar films.
Yes, there is poignancy in Victor’s situation, as well as real drama in his relationship with Carmen (both Leguizamo and Cotto give full-hearted, convincing performances).
And his relationship with Isabella Rossellini’s character unfolds with unwavering logic, though the end result could have been handled more creatively.
But “Empire” fails because it lacked the guts to be true about its people and instead relied on a fancy plot gimmick that no doubt played better at the pitch meeting.
It takes imagination to envision a film that clearly depicts how finance and morality have diverged (as Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” did), but very little imagination to approve a mechanical plot device that the audience sees coming long before the characters do.
I felt a sense of loss as I exited the theater, still impressed by the reality of Victor, Carmen, and many of the others. What would La Colombiana do if Victor had actually taken over a Fortune 500 company? That’s a story for you.