Sunday, October 25, 2009

Empire - A Review

Good afternoon, dear readers! Today, I'm going to review the 2002 release Empire, starring John Leguizamo, Peter Sarsgaard, Delilah Cotto, Denise Richards, Isabella Rossellini, Fat Joe, Treach and a cast of other very good actors.

The Wikipedia article on this movie does not do it justice. This movie is fantastic, and, if more people had paid attention to the myriad storylines within, maybe a lot of those people who fell prey to the likes of Bernard Madoff and the like would have seen what was coming.

John Leguizamo plays Victor Rosa, an entrepreneur (read: dope peddler) in the South Bronx, in the midst of a very sensitive turf war with three other dealers. They all purchase their dope from La Colombiana, played by Isabella Rossellini. As in the real world, the dealers have an identifying name to go with their particular offering; Vic calling his product Empire. He prefers to cut it the least, and develops both a good breed of customer and brand loyalty. His rivals, Tito Severe for example (played by Fat Joe), prefers to deal in quantity and cuts it without regard for purity. Vic is very cunning and has, for the most part, avoided the arrests that are usually prevalent in his line of business. At one point, Vic sets up decoys with wax paper bags filled with crushed graham crackers with "FUCK YOU" stamped on the baggies, thereby faking out the all-too-obvious undercover narcotics teams.

Vic has a beautiful girlfriend, Carmen, played by Delilah Cotto, who, even knowing his business, stands behind her man. It isn't blind loyalty, as you will see later in the movie. I wish to entice you to want to go buy this movie or rent it at Blockbuster or Netflix - it really is that good.

Of course, with any turf war goes the overstepping of boundaries, and this is dealt with quickly and decisively by Vic's crew. The person responsible unwittingly sets off the escalating chain of events that put everyone in danger, and the consequences are frightening.

Carmen's co-worker, Trish, played by Denise Richards, has a boyfriend by the name of Jack Wimmer, played by Peter Sarsgaard. Jack is charismatic, cool, and most importantly, not blind as to the reality of how he makes his living; for that, when he is introduced to Vic, he does not look down upon him; rather, he sees Vic and himself as kindred spirits, and they befriend each other immediately.

Carmen informs Vic that they are pregnant; not long after that, the repercussions of earlier retributions return as a hit is taken on Vic, who is wounded, but not fatally. This gets Vic to thinking about leaving his business, and instead joining Jack in his very lucrative investments. He moves out of the South Bronx into an unused Soho loft, offered by Jack. He begins alienating his former crew for socialite parties with Jack and Trish, something Carmen now regrets.

His first investment pans out to a 200% return; Vic is amazed with the ease at which Jack can make such things happen. When a deal is mentioned that has an even higher rate of return, Vic throws caution to the wind and goes for it...but there are extenuating circumstances. One, he must rein in Jimmy, his former lieutenant, from his hyper-violent proclivities; two, being a million and a half short, he approaches La Colombiana with an offer to include her into the money train - her response to him is that Jimmy must go, and the money is his. Painful decisions are made, and the deal is in the offing.

Of course, this is where the movie parallels recent occurrences - Vic is taken for every cent he's got, and Jack Wimmer disappears...seemingly without a trace. Vic returns to what's left of his former crew and elicits what financial means they have to try out a long shot, which pans out. Of course, Jack Wimmer's fate does not parallel Bernie Madoff' least, not as of yet, but if you see this movie, you may ask yourself...why NOT.

Speaking of's my pal, Bernie Kerik...or should I say Inmate #210717? Not so bloody smug anymore, now are we?

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