Dito Montiel’s newest film, Empire State, may have skipped most theaters, but it’s worth watching for the unbelievable true story, characters and gritty touch the director brings to this New York caper.
The movie, now available on Blu-ray and DVD, stars Liam Hemsworth as an unlikely thief. Hemsworth’s Chris Potamitis is a minimum wage back breaker in ’80s New York looking for a better life and early as he watches crime riddle the streets and his father limp his way to a lousy 9 to 5 job. Chris gets hired by a security company picking up and delivering money for banks. He’s surprised by how relaxed the security is at his new job, especially when there’s millions of dollars at his fingertips. Temptation overcomes him, and he begins planning a robbery to set himself, his friend and his family up for life.
The story of Empire State is based off the biggest heist in North American history. The true story pretty much goes like the film version does: a few young kids decided to take advantage of an opportunity staring them in the face and snatch up more than a few million dollars. The problem? They weren’t criminals by nature and didn’t pull the gig off in the smartest way possible.
There’s a lot that works in Empire State, and it’s mostly thanks to Montiel and screenwriter Adam Mazer. The screenplay hits the right notes and gives us an authentic film by making the focus of the movie Chris and his friend Eddie (Michael Angarano). Put simply, the flick is about two pals from New York trying to pull off a heist and getting in over their heads. That’s where the fun comes from and from where the heart and drama stems.
Montiel isn’t trying to make an action picture here or a heist movie. He’s trying to tell a wacky story by giving it a realistic touch whether it be with the dialogue, the New York feel to the location and sets (despite shooting in New Orleans), the absurdity in the story or the core friendship that keeps the movie together.
Dwayne Johnson also shows up in a limited role to pump up the action scenes. Again though, Montiel never lets these action moments take over the picture, feel out of place or strain belief. He strings them together with the story quite well, and we end up with an unusually strong film for having gone straight to DVD.
All the actors are great here. The biggest surprise is Hemsworth. He’s an Australian playing a New York kid, and he quickly disappears into the role. Angarano does just as solid a job as the screw up friend. Johnson is essentially playing Johnson, but he’s game and a good addition.
Empire State has that perfect cinematic feel to it that early ’70s pictures had: the flick looks great, there’s an absurd story laced with realism and at the center is something we can all connect to and that makes us smile. It toes the line quite well of balancing realism and being an enjoyable movie that knows its a movie.
The Blu-ray combo pack includes some great special features. The highlights include a soft spoken and brutally honest commentary from Montiel and an interview with the original Chris Potamitis about the original crime. It’s almost as enjoyable as the film itself in its honest nature and absurd tone. The combo pack is definitely worth a buy if Empire State sounds at all interesting to you.
I can’t really recommend Empire State enough. It’s a great story told in a really cool way. Montiel has the perfect touch for the movie and makes the whole thing feel just authentic enough and, at the same time, just cinematic enough to be a superb way to spend an hour and a half.
On a larger note, Empire State is also a perfect example of why traditional film studios and film distribution are dying. Here you have a great original film being dumped onto video. It has enough appeal and quality to survive a theatrical release and is even worth rolling out on VOD in a more strategic way. Instead, studios dump movies like this out there with minimal support and lose money hand over fist trying to promote duds like The Lone Ranger.
As film fans and people that want genuine art and entertainment in our movies, let’s go out and support a real enjoyable film with more value than a lot of the crap we’ve seen peddled out to us this summer. Let’s support Empire State.