Title: Empire State
HTS Overall Score:79.5
Stuck between a self-made rock and a hard place and struggling with an internal battle of morality versus greed. That pretty much sums up where Chris Potamitis (Liam Hemsworth) finds himself in Empire State. We’ve all faced a situation where common sense and morals are challenged by the lure of the easy road. The penalty of taking the easy rode might be a slap on the hand, humiliation, or perhaps breaking someone’s trust. Rarely does it mean prison. But it’s also rare that the easy road is a bag loaded with cash lost amongst other bags full of millions of dollars, all within an arms reach.
Empire State is a film based on the true story of a 1982 New York City crime that turned into one of the biggest money heists in the history of the United States. In this particular case, the words “true story” are both exact and inexact. “True story” films are cool because they provide a fly-on-the-wall behind the scenes glimpse; a “this is how it happened” guide to a major event. Just a word of warning: Empire State is based on facts, yes, but key elements of its on its screen action and character dynamics apparently aren’t exactly accurate (at least so says the real Chris Potamitis). Perhaps I’m entirely naive or a bit too picky, but this makes me feel cheated and cheapens the film a bit for me. More on that later.
The story involves two boyhood friends named Chris Potamitis and Eddie (Michael Angarano). Chris and Eddie are twenty-somethings trying to make ends meet in their New York City neighborhood. Eddie is a self-centered loose cannon that can’t hold a job while Chris is more intelligent and grounded. Their relationship seems to do more harm than good and has resulted in Chris being rejected from the NYPD police academy. Chris and Eddie have rather bleak employment situations.
Chris is presented as the kind of young guy that knows the right thing to do, but continually makes mistakes guided by stupidity. After getting his father fired from a job at a business owned by a small group Greek mobsters, Chris goes to work for an armored trucking company that picks-up large sums of money from New York businesses and stores it in a ridiculously low security warehouse. Equally lax are the techniques his training partner uses in the field while driving the armored truck. Not surprisingly he and his truck partner are robbed, money is stolen, and his partner dies from multiple gun shot wounds. Chris is later incensed to find out that his employer is only willing to pay his fallen partner’s widow a small sum of cash as a death benefit. Chris is taken off truck duty and put on a solo gave-yard shift security detail at the company’s headquarters and poorly secured money storage facility. Hello temptation! Angered by his new role and the knowledge that the company is cheating his co-workers widow, Chris begins to consider stealing some cash.
Along the way we are introduced to a slick talking NYPD detective named James Ransome (Dwayne Johnson). After investigating the death of Chris’ coworker and the armored truck robbery, Chris finds himself on Ransome’s radar. He’s suspicious of Chris, but opts for the wait and watch approach. Of course his suspicions of Chris are spot-on, but he doesn’t realize it until it’s too late. Meanwhile Chris manages to steal a money bag from his employer containing 25 grand. He quickly gives some to his co-worker's widow and then makes a terrible mistake: He tells Eddie. Eddie decides they need to party and, of course, steal more – as in: millions. Eddie starts telling everyone (including the Greek mobsters) about their plans and the insecure money facility. See where this is going? A slippery slope to the land of No Good. As events unfold, Chris finds himself torn between greed, friendships, the knowledge that he’s breaking the law. It’s an intoxicating cocktail and watching him stumble through his decisions is torturous!
Little known director Dito Montiel (Fighting, The Son of No One) does an excellent job of transporting viewers back into the 1980’s. Scenes are loaded with artifacts and clothing from the period giving the film an authentic feel. Viewers are also bathed with sounds of the 80’s all to an excellent effect. The film’s acting is fairly solid and believe it or not Dwayne Johnson isn’t the star of the show, it’s Liam Hemsworth. He’s the face of the movie and the driving force behind moving the film from start to finish.
The trick to Empire State is its overall accuracy. I was lured by the fact that its opening scenes are loaded with real 1980's news footage discussing the heist. This sets the stage for the film, making it feel as if you’re getting an authentic inside look at what really happened. There in lies the problem, because the film goes on to portray key action and conversations sequences that don’t match details told by the real Chris Potamitis during an interview contained on the disc’s extras. Perhaps I’m taking this a bit too far, but there is certainly a bit of a let down when watching the real Potamitis discuss his remembrance of details. So I question: why change or embellish what really happened?
Rated R for some violence and pervasive language
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/news/ES3.jpg[/img]Unremarkable. Uninspired. That’s probably the best way to describe Empire State’s 1.39:1 MPEG4 AVC encode. The bad is that the film has no punch or liveliness to its slightly tan color palate. Skins tones are general natural but have moments of appearing over-saturated and red. Color clarity and dynamic pop especially suffer during indoor scenes, as does shadow detail. Some of the panoramic shots of New York’s skyline have loads of visible grain. The good is that the digitally captured film is generally razor sharp with moments of intense detail filling the screen. This makes the period sets, cars, and clothing look excellent. Also, close-ups of characters’ faces are crystal clear and loaded with detail.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/news/ES4.jpg[/img]Lionsgate delivers a fairly impressive, if not refreshing, 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio track on Empire State. What jumps out immediately is the presentation’s attention to detail. The intricacies of New York’s ambient environment are given the royal treatment with loads of immersive sounds like dogs barking, the clatter of subway trains, car horns, automobile engines, bells ringing, and the like. All of these sounds are presented through all 5 channels with excellent directionality and clarity, even changing source location as camera angles change and pans occur on the screen. The volume of surround activity is notable, as subtle sounds (such as a car passing) are frequently presented at volume levels slightly louder than normal (to a very pleasing effect). There is one scene in the movie that sounded as if someone was running around above my theater room, unusually tied to accurate thuds of bass that added to the overall effect. Speaking of low frequency effects, they are primarily reserved for a giant explosion, gun fire, and a few other moments where they are necessary. The depth and presentation of LFE is excellent considering the movie’s content. Dialog is excellent.
Other aspects of the film, including David Whitman’s (Fighting, Yelling to the Sky) original score, are relatively subdued.
• Director's Commentary with Dito Montiel
• Deleted Scenes
• Creating an Empire: Behind the Scenes with Cast/Crew Interviews
• Anatomy of a Heist: The Mastermind Behind the Robbery
• Empire State Trailer
Empire State is by no means a bad film, in fact it’s an enjoyable watch. There are moments of high tension, good action, and some real cringe-inducing decision making. The sets are a fantastic 1980’s explosion (if you were alive during the early 80’s you’re sure to enjoy that aspect). All of this, combined with good acting, makes the movie an easy recommendation for a viewing. My primary beef is the movie’s overall accuracy. There are several key moments, including events leading up to the big heist, that are riveting to watch but line-up so poorly with the real Chris Potamitis’ detailed account that it cheapens the impact of the movie.
Starring: Emma Roberts, Liam Hemsworth, Dwayne Johnson
Directed by: Dito Montiel
Written by: Adam Mazer
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Studio: Lionsgate Films
Runtime: 94 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: September 3, 2013
Buy Empire State Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Watch It