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Luck: Season 1 - Review

Luck

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DUSTIN Hoffman’s racing drama Luck arrived with impeccable credentials. Not only did it mark a rare TV outing for Hoffman, it boasted a stellar supporting cast, a script from David Milch and Michael Mann as both director of the pilot and series executive producer.

Out of the gates, it also enthralled. Admittedly, some of the plotting was so complex, you struggled to understand fully what was going on. But the acting was first-rate, the tension simmered nicely and Luck looked set to become one of the great HBO series.

But then it ran out of luck. Production of the show was marred by the death of several horses, prompting complaints from PETA and pressure to shut down the show.

Once a third horse died while filming of the second series was underway, the decision was taken to wind things up – and so a show that looked like a racing certainty for awards and a long run ended up being cut short in its prime.

It was a shame, for the tragedy involving the animals aside, this was shaping up to be a really great show. Hoffman, though not on-screen as much as some fans might have liked, was awesome.

He played Chester ‘Ace’ Bernstein, an intuitive tough guy with a long history in dirty pool. Recently released after three years in prison, Ace and his longtime chauffeur Gus Demitriou (Dennis Farina, similarly excellent) craft a complex plan to reverse the sagging fortunes of a California race-track, while getting even more elaborate revenge on the men who sent him to prison.

This unfolded against another plot involving four dissolute gamblers at the track who pool the last of their money in an effort to win an elusive Pick Six bet, and yet another involving weathered trainer Walter Smith (Nick Nolte), who sees his second chance in an untested thoroughbred horse.

Hoffman’s storyline was arguably the best, especially later on in the series as it began to gain momentum and saw him pitted against Michael Gambon.

But Nolte’s veteran Walter Smith remained a fascinating enigma, while the quartet of gamblers – wheel-chair-bound Marcus (Kevin Dunn), dim-witted Lonnie (Ian Hart) and Renzo (Ritchie Coster) and desperate gambling addicted Jerry (Jason Gedrick) – provided comedic relief and a group of everyman characters who were genuinely worth rooting for once you got to know them.

Needless to say, all of the stories converged during the season finale, which provided yet more thrilling race action as well as character drama… culminating in a finale that was both agonisingly left open (regarding Ace’s story) and semi-nicely wrapped up in terms of the outcome of the big race itself.

And while the show’s cancellation was a sad thing, it shouldn’t count against repeat viewing or even first-time admiration given that there is so much to admire and enjoy in this first season.

Aside from the acting, Mann’s pilot was a thing of beauty (bringing his trademark visual style to some scintillating racing shots), while the directors that followed him sought to emulate this template.

It gave Luck a look and feel that was second to none and highly cinematic, making it one of the classiest acts on TV… and a show that looked set to become comparable to the likes of The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire in terms of complexity and brains.

Hence, this first season box set – released on December 3 – is well worth a bet.

Certificate: 18 (tbc)
Episodes/discs: 9/3
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: December 3, 2012