TV miniseries review: Empire Falls (2005)

The opening narration seemed promising. This is a film based on a book. Think A River Runs Through It.

And then think again. I am intrigued enough that I will probably hunt down Richard Russo’s book. The cast is top notch, with actors such as Ed Harris, Paul Newman, and Philip Seymour Hoffman gracing the screen. (I would have never suspected that Paul Newman was playing the old family codger.)

However, the script doesn’t seem to always work. Dialogue feels stilted and interactions a bit odd. Perhaps though that is a product of forcing a book into a TV series format. Reading the book will reveal if this is the case.

The story takes place in a small Maine town run by a wealthy family who owned the means of industrial capital through the generations. With the rise of globalization and the sell-off of assets, the population of the town has been thrown out of work and down on their luck for decades.

Against this backdrop, we meet our hero: Miles Roby. At 42, he is stuck managing a local restaurant for the matriarch of the wealthy local family. Dreams long ago dashed, he continues to slowly watch his life ebb away. His wife left their loveless marriage for the local gym owner, only to discover that his real age is at least a decade older than the 50 years he claims to be. Christina, their daughter, has a great relationship with her dad but not her mother and suffers through an abusive ex-boyfriend. A constant burr in Miles’ side is his nev’r-do-well father played by Newman. Others float in and out of the story: a former flame of his, a former childhood acquaintance who is now a cop, the wealthy matriarch’s daughter who always had a crush on him.

The mix of events in this sleepy Maine town is punctuated by flashbacks that Miles has. He remembers scenes from his childhood with his mother: trips to Martha’s Vineyard, his mother’s affair with someone who made her happy, leaving school to be close to his mother as she died. Life is a tangled web that people tend to get stuck in. Miles is stuck despite the poking and prodding of his brother to do something with his life.

I felt like I was watching a traditional mini-series, the kind that one watches on a bad weather fall afternoon. It sucks you in but if the sun was shining you’d be out doing something else. But even so, I am looking forward to watching the next installment.


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