Making its world premiere at the Gasparilla International Film Festival in Tampa, Florida, Empire State is a throwback that in a way pays homage to the gritty crime dramas from a generation ago. And it’s also based on a true story.
Two inseparable childhood friends, Chris (Liam Hemsworth) and Eddie (Michael Angarano) are twenty-year-olds roaming around their New York City neighborhood in 1982. Nowadays they are polar-opposites of each other, yet still maintain a strong sense of loyalty to one another. Presently, Chris is hustling to make the NYC police academy while Eddie yearns to quickly capture the big payout in life by any means necessary. So when Chris snags a job as a night security guard at a shanty warehouse for an armored car depository that holds roughly $25 million in cash, the unhinged take-action-first/think later Eddie urges him to go in on a plan so they can kiss their worthless jobs and, for that matter, standing in life, goodbye forever.
Seems like a sure thing except they have a suspicious and equally persistent NYPD officer (Dwayne Johnson) watching their every move. Oh, and the testy local crime families may want a piece of the action, too.
Though not technically flashy when compared to the current crime dramas invading theaters, director Dito Montiel (The Son of No One, Fighting) articulates an engaging story through the lens. It almost feels like you’re gathered around the kitchen table listening to an elder family member recite a tale about the days when they were coming-of-age so to speak. And even with the modest filmmaking mechanics, a hearty does of charisma is injected through the game cast that effortlessly slides into the time period. And speaking of the time period, the set designs and atmosphere/locations are pitch-perfect for this straight-forward chronicle.
The central plot revolves around a robbery, the true crime if you will, instigated by Michael Angarano. His flammable persona ignites, and therefore steals, every scene, and is the ideal counter & balance to all the other characters that get woven into this synopsis of raw organized crime during those times. And while the notable names on this roster (Hemsworth, Johnson, etc.) all find the right tone (though Emma Roberts and Jerry Ferarra’s roles didn’t add much), it’s the other “unknown” supporting players that really catch your eye in portraying the suspense element this required; since it’s not meant to be an action piece by any means. Now that isn’t to say some bullets aren’t flying and few punches weren’t exchanged. But the real firepower is in the dialogue, as a decent amount of the conversations are covered in tense blanket. Again, this is laced with solid acting all-around.
Though the steady build-up is measured and the performances are there, the bringing of it all together to a satisfying close is where this struggles. If you know the facts of the case, of course the outcome is obvious. But it appeared as if the script tried to cram and/or touch upon too many factual events at the end, which then led to a jagged delivery/wrap-up. In other words, the final sequences lost some of the luster that was coated on earlier.
Overall, Empire State is subtly captivating even if it’s not as climatic as genre mates Goodfellas or Donnie Brasco. But it’s definitely on par with 2011’s Kill the Irishman, which danced with similar themes and mechanical execution.
Empire State will see a Fall 2013 release.