After Boardwalk Empire’s earth-shattering season finale, HBO gave viewers a taste of their newest offering: Luck. The official premiere is Jan. 29. The series’ pilot, directed by Michael Mann and written by Deadwood creator David Milch, enjoyed a sneak preview and we caught a glimpse of what this Dustin Hoffman-starrer is really going to offer. You should be warned that the world of gambling at the racetrack is new to me – I bet 10 bucks on a single race at the Del Mar Racetracks one summer, and while I walked away with $20, I’m anything but an expert. Plus, I should warn you this breakdown includes some spoilers.
1. Horse Racing is majestic and heartbreaking.
Mann’s direction is obvious from minute-one. The pilot makes strides to bring us into the likely unfamiliar world of the racetrack and the excitement that accompanies it. For most of us, Seabiscuit and Secretariat are the closest images we have to this world, but Luck delivers a much more visceral, carnal element to the realm. We see the horses’ glistening haunches; we watch them run with their hooves pounding the moistened track and their defined muscles working tirelessly to navigate every curve. And just as we start to get high on the beauty of it all, the pilot hits us with reality: there’s a dark side. We witness a jockey’s heartbreaking task as he strokes one injured creature’s wilting head as the vet puts it down for good. The scene is arguably the most powerful moment in the entire pilot and an element that allows the series to be more than just a gambling romp.
2. Betting on Horses is an all-engrossing undertaking.
Of course, it is still a show about that consuming vice: betting. There’s corruption; there’s significant, crippling loss; there’s redemption; there’s hopeless addiction; and all of this means there’s plenty of trouble to be had. We see this world from all angles. We meet the trainers, the horse owners, the track agents, the jockeys, the horses themselves, the downtrodden, lowly betters so addicted to the game they bet their happiness on it. While we only caught a glimpse of what this world has to offer in the pilot, the realm is cracked wide open, offering a huge playing field for the series.
3. Dustin Hoffman is fantastic, just as we all assumed he would be.
Why did anyone tune into the pilot last night? Insomniacs aside, I can safely say that Hoffman’s involvement is the number-one draw for most viewers. We’ve grown up watching the man deliver fantastic performance after fantastic performance. His name is synonymous with countless classic films, and with the cinematic series that often land on HBO, our expectations are rather high. His role in the pilot as the newly freed jailbird, Ace Bernstein, is rather small, but he assumes it adeptly and it’s very obvious that he’s about to take us into another captivating world. Side note: did anyone else get a little, nerdy satisfaction out of the notion that Hoffman is playing another Bernstein – the first one being Carl Bernstein in All The President’s Men?
4. It’s going to be a slow burn; the pilot is just an introduction to the lifestyle.
Not a whole lot happened in the pilot. It sort of felt like a more detailed version of the first 20 minutes of any movie. Countless shots of gleaming horses racing reel us into the action and excite us. Hoffman’s cagey conversations behind closed doors intrigue us. The buncha losers’ big win gives us a taste of that sweet, yet fleeting sense of victory. And the jockeys’ and trainers’ POV makes us feel like we’ve got a bird’s eye view of everything. Yet, the pilot was all set-up. There were no big reveals and the typical HBO signatures – boobs and blood – were completely absent. Those things and the bigger storylines are coming, but it appears they’re coming very slowly and methodically. It seems we’ll all just have to…hold our horses. (I’m sorry for that – couldn’t help myself.)
5. Dumbledore is coming.
Part of that slow burn includes the road to Michael Gambon’s role on the series. His role is shrouded in some significant secrecy, but we do know that he’ll be a rival to Hoffman’s Ace Bernstein, which is a delicious notion worth sticking around for.
Did you watch the pilot? Share your thoughts in the comments and on Twitter. [@KelseaStahler]