Michael Mann is now another great filmmaker to take his talent to HBO with the 2012 series Luck. After watching a sneak preview of the premiere episode, which followed Boardwalk Empire’s season finale, I see the makings of another great show.
Dustin Hoffman plays Ace Bernstein, who has just been released from prison after a three year term. His crime is a little unclear, but we do know he took the fall for a group of high rollers. Character actor Dennis Farina plays Ace’s partner and confidant simply known as The Greek. As Ace and The Greek drive back from Victorville to L.A. we witness their close and trusted friendship, as well as discover that The Greek is currently acting as a front for Ace with the ownership of a race horse. This takes us to local landmark Santa Anita where we meet the rest of the players in this ensemble series centered on the world of horse racing. A key theme to this show seems to be information and how it influences the many different outcomes that effect each of the characters. Escalante, played by John Ortiz, for example reprimands his jockey for saying a young horse is going to run big on race day. He knows this horse is a long shot about to hit, and he doesn’t want the information changing the odds. Richard Kind plays a stuttering jockey manager who eavesdrops on an eccentric trainer played by Nick Nolte as he talks to a horse. What Nolte’s trainer leaks is that this horse is an offspring of the great champion Delphi. Most of the characters represent various figures who work at the track, like a witty veterinarian played by Jill Hennessey, but my favorite characters are a group of desperate gamblers.
Kevin Dunn plays the wheelchair and oxygen tank bound leader of this foursome who are likely about to hit Santa Anita’s legendary Pick Six Jackpot worth, on this day, over two million dollars. Now the reason these guys feel this might be their day, is because they’ve aligned themselves with a guy they refer to as The Brain, well played by Jason Gedrick. In the late eighties and early nineties Gedrick was, along with Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr, an actor many critics had high hopes for. This role might turn out to be the one to bring him to the forefront once more. He plays this guy as a classically flawed anti-hero. While he’s a genius at picking horses, he can’t help himself from losing everything he’s won at the poker tables. He seems to be a disheveled version of the guy James Caan played in the classic 1970’s film The Gambler. Some believe that gambling addiction is largely driven by a person’s obsession with the idea of being able to wield fate. When a gambler wins he or she continues to push fate, not so much for the money, but as an attempt to prove that they can control the uncontrollable. Gedrick’s character seems to be set on this path. At the end of this episode, our foursome seems likely to find out that no pot of gold comes without a very high price.
Since Mann directed this season opener, it is no surprise that it is visually stunning. The action is at its most intense when we are on the track with these beautiful beasts. He puts the camera right there in the action, and he manages to convey the great speed these animals run with better than any other film or television series I’m aware of. In the episode’s final race sequence he takes us literally behind the curtain where we witness, along with a young jockey, the real tragedy that often comes with this so-called sport of kings. While the show’s creator David Milch’s last series Deadwood didn’t last with viewers, it’s my hope that this one is a sure bet.