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77 out of 87 people found the following review useful:

"Empire Falls": A Labor of Love!

Author: lavatch from Twin Cities, Minnesota
29 May 2005

Richard Russo's 483-page novel offers a multi-faceted story and a fascinating array of characters in a small town in Maine who are burdened by the weight of the past. At the heart of the story is the character of Miles Roby, the proprietor of a local grill. We learn of Miles' love that he felt for his deceased mother and the love that he feels for his young daughter. The story resonated with American readers, and Russo was awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

For a film version of Russo's novel, it would be difficult to imagine the assembling of a finer cast for the quirky, eccentric characters of "Empire Falls." The unassuming and selfless Miles Roby is brilliantly performed by Ed Harris. Although Russo was initially leaning towards the actor James Gandolfini for this crucial role, Harris captures the sensitivity and emotional depth of Miles that few other actors could achieve. Other members of this stellar cast include Paul Newman (as Miles' crusty father Max); Joanne Woodward (as the town matriarch Francine Whiting); Danielle Panabaker (as Miles' daughter); Helen Hunt (as Miles' ex-wife Janine); Aidan Quinn (as Miles' brother David); Theresa Russell (as Miles' co-worker and confidante at the grill); Estelle Parsons (as Miles' mother-in-law); and Kate Burton (as Cindy Whiting and lifelong admirer of Miles). These performances were so rich that it was as if the actors had been studying the book and developing their characters for the past three years. This was a film production so faithful to its source that it would be impossible reread the novel without thinking of this enormously gifted cast.

Veteran film director Fred Schepisi led the cast with a sure-handed yet leisurely paced style. In Russo's novel, the scenes from the past are written in italics, placing the key love relationship of Miles' mother Grace and Charlie Mayne in bold relief. This crucial relationship unfolded in the film in a slightly grey haze, which conveyed a visual aura of the past. As performed by Robin Wright Penn and Philip Seymour Hoffman, the relationship of Grace and Charlie was one of the most touching among many in this stellar cast. Schepisi's transitional moments between past and present were brilliantly conceived in the film.

Russo's novel is a uniquely American saga, recalling such great works of naturalism as Theodore Dreiser's "An American Tragedy." The story has great scope and deals with such themes as family dysfunction, small-town gossip, commerce and industry, political infighting, and, above all, family secrets. The painful layers of the past in the lives of the characters were carefully revealed to us and to the characters themselves. In one of the most moving sequences of the film, the past merges with the present, and the realization of Miles is that ultimately one must declare a "truce" with the ghosts from the past.

One of the readers affected by this powerful story was the actor Paul Newman, who had previously collaborated with Russo on the film "Nobody's Fool." Newman served as one of the film's executive producers. This HBO film adaptation of "Empire Falls" has been three years in the making, and the result is truly a labor of love.

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49 out of 59 people found the following review useful:

Great film, great cast

Author: hephestes from United States
12 May 2005

I saw the premiere in NYC, and I work with one of the cast members, so my take on the movie is a bit biased.

I also grew up in Maine, and know several of the locations well. All told, the production captured the sense of community in Maine very well. Look out the window of the Empire Grill for the best music store chain in the country, Bullmoose Music, or the background for other Maine details - Gifford's Icecream, Hannaford's, Route 201, Kennebunkport (and the Bush compound at Walker Point).

The film is excellent, and managed to translate the Richard Russo novel quite well. There was little changed or left out from the book - keep in mind this is a nearly 4 hour mini-series in two parts, 8 chapters. Watch it in two installments, late May, 2005 on HBO.

There is a very interesting dynamic with Paul Newman playing the passionate opposite of real-life wife Joanne Woodward, playing the rational and controlling matriarch. Ed Harris is the center of the production, and turns in a well considered and Mainer-like performance. Danielle Panabaker also performed well, and will turn into a starlet sooner than later. The supporting cast of Helen Hunt, Dennis Farina (hilarious), Kate Burton (wow), Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright Penn, Aidan Quinn, and Jeff DeMunn add up to an amazing ensemble.

It would be a 10 of 10 if the ending weren't the easy way out of a complex story, a problem with the book as well as the film.

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32 out of 38 people found the following review useful:

The ghost of the past

Author: jotix100 from New York
31 May 2005

Richard Russo's brilliant novel gets a full movie treatment from HBO Films under the direction of Fred Schepisi. This multi layered saga of people in a small and forgotten town in Maine follows Mr. Russo's novel and makes its people come alive, as portrayed by some of America's best actors working as an ensemble under Mr. Schepisi's unobtrusive direction.

Empire Falls serves as a metaphor for all that has happened in most New England towns when industry abandoned them and unscrupulous liquidators came to pick at the bones of whatever was left behind in order to make an easy buck.

At the center of the story we find Miles Roby, a decent man who has to deal with the present day realities and try to keep his family together. As played by Ed Harris, Miles offers the actor one of the best roles he has given us in years. Helen Hunt, on the other hand, seems to be miscast in the role of Janine; her fake accent doesn't seem to help her.

Paul Newman, as the eccentric patriarch of the Roby family, loses himself in his role and we forget we are watching anyone by that crazy Max Roby. Philip Seymour Hoffman makes a great contribution with a small appearance. Robin Wright Penn is seen briefly also as Grace, Miles mother who is a key figure in the story.

The rest of the cast is excellent.

The best thing that can come out of this adaptation is that people will flock to read Richard Russo's novels because he is an important voice in American literature.

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29 out of 33 people found the following review useful:

Loved the book and the movies

Author: clam9999 from United States
30 May 2005

I read the book in 4 days in anticipation of the movie coming on. I finished it the afternoon of the screening. Fell in love with the characters, could see the cast as the characters and was disappointed when it was over. I didn't want to it to end.

I though Russo did a great job of turning the book into a screenplay. Since I knew every person, and being a Yankee the town was real in my mind so I feel he carried it off beautifully. I noticed the negative comments I read were mostly from people who hadn't read the book, maybe that is why the big difference of opinion.

I thought the cast was excellent and pulled it off very well. Joanne's part was not a lovable character and she wasn't. Ed Harris was his usual top performance. As for Paul Newman he was MAX. Max was a selfish, worthless, retro bate and yet his presence made every one feel safe. I can't believe that at 80 years old he can still steal the show but he does.

David and Charlene were not used enough but like I said I didn't want the story to end or to leave the town. If this became a weekly series I would be happy.

Dennis Farina was perfect in his part, and Helen Hunt accent or not was the uptight, frustrated, unhappy woman to a "T". Been there and got the tee shirt.

James Minty was played to perfection. I hated and felt sad for him in the same breath. The pain in his eyes matched the hopelessness of Cindy's frantic need for love.

Grace and Charley could not have been played any better. Mrs. Penn and Mr. Hoffman are real. They don't act they just are. THe entire cast was just about perfect.

I don't read much anymore but I would if I knew of another book of this caliber. Thank you Paul Newman for bringing to my attention.

Watch the movie, read the book. You can't loose but you sure can fall in love.

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30 out of 37 people found the following review useful:

Deft translation to the screen - beautifully done

Author: dplante2002 from NYC
28 May 2005

Although everyone should read the book - it will pull you in and you'll know the real Maine and the people who live there - this film is the next best thing. The script is amazingly deft, the acting is brilliant, and the production design and values are beautiful and true to the source. Paul Newman completely embodies Miles'incorrigible father and never fails to light up the screen while completely exasperating you - like he must do to everyone who comes in contact with him. Ed Harris portrays Miles as the complex and very subtle person with a thoughtful quietness that lets you know both why people are drawn to him as well as gives you clues why he keeps these same people at a perceptible distance. The rest of the cast members are just as distinguished in their roles. (The talent quotient is unbelievably high!) As amazing as this production is on just about every level (except for the music, which is irredeemably cheesy but fortunately mostly unobtrusive) credit must be given first and foremost to Richard Russo for writing characters so real and so complex and nuanced, and dialogue that is realistically elliptical that the real pull of the movie is not waiting to see what happens, but in getting to know the characters better. These are all ordinary people and what makes them interesting is not what they do, but those subtle things that make them who they are. This is why the mini-series format was perfect. It gives the viewer the opportunity to get to know Empire Falls. My only wish is that at some point one could see this on the big screen. Certainly the mythical town of Empire Falls (and the real town that it represents) is an important character and IT'S crowded on the small screen.

Dan Plante

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21 out of 25 people found the following review useful:

Empire Falls is a tale of small town people, struggling to find themselves and their sense of dignity.

Author: christinepatterson7 from Canada
9 February 2006

Empire Falls is a remarkably intelligent piece of work, so very different from most mindless Hollywood films today. The smooth blend of comic and tragic with satiric overtones was brilliant. The easy transition from past to present reminds us all of the interdependence of child and parent, and the poignancy of different types of love. It reminded me of what films used to be capable of portraying in an era before mindless special effects took the place of human drama. The cast and crew should be commended for their artistic integrity in not succumbing to the current trend in the entertainment industry to cater to the lowest common denominator. I hope some Hollywood producers think about the fact that film can be thought-provoking, and not just a series of electronic jolts.

Empire Falls was a clear indication that there are still actors and actresses out there, and there are stories to be told without resorting to egregious remakes of old television series. If film is to be a viable part of culture, it needs to stimulate the mind of the viewer, and this film does that by creating complex characters who come to life on the screen. The issues of ambition and failure and love and hate pertain to us all, and the range of ages of the characters allowed for a wide identification. Empire Falls is a shining example of what the entertainment industry is capable of producing when it sets its mind on portraying the reality of the human condition with all of its weaknesses and strengths.

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16 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

A small town, a big production

Author: verzoni from waterville maine
19 May 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Well the long wait is over, Empire Falls finally premiered at the Waterville Opera House. I am lucky enough to work for one of the sponsors of the event so I was able to get an invitation, and it was worth the wait! Though living in the town in which it was filmed, for most of my life, I may be a little bias.

I was extremely pleased with the movie/mini series,which ever you choose to call this wonderful piece of work. But as I said before, I am a little bias. I know I am not alone in feeling a bit of ownership over this project, after all we {as in the people of the greater Waterville and Skowhegan areas} did play a huge part in this production. We volunteered for and were hired as crew members,we gathered in crowds and watched scenes being filmed,helped gather props {my wife and the rest of the staff at the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce among others},and some of us were even lucky enough to land bit parts as extras. The production was quite a site to see; just imagine driving to work and seeing Ed Harris, Helen Hunt, or even Paul Newman working on a small street corner in your home town!

This masterfully written book by Richard Russo was transformed into an equally impressive film. This film tells the story of Empire Falls,which could be any number of small towns in central Maine located on one of our many rivers. The story focuses mainly on Miles Roby {Harris} who runs the Empire Grill,and tells the story of his life and his town.The film also tells the stories of multiple other characters in this once thriving mill town,now a bit down on its luck due to the closing of its main source of employment, the mills.Talk about art imitating life, this is the story of central Maine only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. Mr. Russo and the rest of the production crew have done a wonderful job telling a great story,there are many flashbacks to Miles Roby's childhood but they flow in the film like the currents of the Knox {Kennebec} river.

The film from start to finish showcases some of the beauty that Maine has to offer along with some top notch acting led by Paul Newman. Mr.Newman gives a brilliant performance as Max Roby, Miles' always ragged,smelly,and sometimes drunk father.Mr. Newman, in my opinion, gives one of the best performances in recent history.Acting along side Mr. Newman was a cast superbly put together,they all portrayed Mainas {that is Mainers for the rest of the country}very well,but I would have to say the best accent has to go to Aidan Quinn, he nailed it perfectly!

The film at just under four hours was slightly long while sitting in our 100+ year old opera house,but shown in its intended two parts {or even all at once} in the comfort of your living room it will envelop you and take you some where near a small place I call home.

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19 out of 25 people found the following review useful:

An absolute work of art "Empire Falls"

Author: Beachbumg2 from United States
30 May 2005

Empire Falls was a refreshing film that dealt with many modern day issues with such depth & sincerity that truly moved me. I felt many emotions as I watched with great intensity, was on the edge of my seat waiting for part 2. Is so rare today to see a movie that is based on genuine story lines that project the realities of past and present day occurrences that so many people are able to relate to. A cast superb, Ed Harris was brilliant, as was Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Helen Hunt, Estelle Parsons, everyone was outstanding, from the seasoned actors right down to the very young, newcomers. The writing so fine tuned, so precise. Such a touch of today's reality done with such style, dignity & grace, kudos to all involved. The storyline was excellent, the plot simply spellbinding. The cast and crew was superb in every way, I felt so moved. Would love to see a sequel in the making.

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16 out of 25 people found the following review useful:

Good Representation of Small Town Maine

Author: dextah-1 from Skowhegan, ME
29 May 2005

I live about 150 yards from the "Empire Grill" depicted in this movie. I think Richard Russo did a great job of painting the lifestyles and economic status of central Maine. It seems like there is a business going under every week up here.

Paul Newman and Ed Harris are spectacular in the movie (as with everything else they do). Being a "Mainah" and having to listen to some of the fake accents as Hollywood thinks we talk up here is kind of annoying. Helen Hunt does a terrible accent - sound more like she's from Brooklyn instead of central Maine.

Great picture. I guess it was worth the interruptions they caused in our small town a couple of summers ago!

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13 out of 22 people found the following review useful:

Interesting way to portray the town scapegoat.......

Author: mrguitardeath from United States
30 May 2005

Miles Roby seemed like the town loser or so it first seems but as things progress you realize he's not the loser, it's everyone else around him! Meanwhile he has spent his whole life steering clear of their recklessness. Everyone around him is just a mess and he is trying to stand clear of their small self destructions. The character had this pillar of the community like persona but everyone was just dumping on him....projecting their own faults, miseries and failures onto him. It almost seemed like it was his purpose....or at least in their eyes. They only get away with it because of this huge chip on his shoulder he has trouble seeing around.......

By the end of the movie you figure out what is really going on and that this man is in all likeliness the most stand up guy in town.... and everyone resents him for it.

In the end he really starts to push back but they could have done SOOOOO much more with this character and final resolution.

I really liked this film even though I found it fairly lacking in some ways. They should have explored the scapegoat angle more and had Miles really stick it to everyone in the end but I guess having him handle it with grace was really good too.

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