Sometimes you walk out of a movie and you feel like your
life will be changed forever. Sometimes, as you leave, all
you want to do is knock out the guy who sold you the ticket,
because he knew how bad the movie was, but didn’t warn you.
And then, there’s Empire, the movie that inevitably
leads to the reaction, “Okay, so… it’s over? Anyone up for
From the opening credits, Victor Rosa (Leguizamo)
invites us to view his world, or just New York City, through
his eyes, voice, and experience. We trek through the South
Bronx, meeting the crew and learning the turf where self-professed
“street pharmacists” fill their respective scrips. The cinematography
and editing are intriguing at first, flashing translucent
shots of guys like Rockefeller and Bill Gates,
Victor’s rich heroes.
Leguizamo, surprisingly, does a reasonable job portraying
this protector of children, doting boyfriend, and homicidal
heroin dealer pedaling his own specific cut, known on the
streets as “Empire.” But even in the beginning, he sees the
pitfalls of this lifestyle through the untimely murder of
his big brother.
At an upscale Manhattan apartment party, Vic’s girl, Carmen
(Cotto) introduces him to her college classmate, Trish
(Richardson). The party is hosted by Trish’s super-yuppie
boyfriend, Jack Wimmer (Sarsgaard), an overtly successful
investment banker in Manhattan. As Vic begins his nearly instant
transformation from ghetto to Gucci, he looks to Jack as his
mentor and messiah. He regards Jack as beyond reproach, and
when Jack promises ungodly returns on large investments, Victor
takes the bait. It’s only when additional investors are brought
in that the trouble truly begins. Victor’s character cannot
seem to escape his past or outrun his future.
Empire lacks the focus and drive to be a very compelling
movie. First-time writer-director Franc Reyes’ debut
into the world of feature film fails to connect with the audience.
Though the casting is excellent and the acting is good, too
many times we are left clueless about the characters’ motivations,
which can easily be attributed to the several gaping holes
in the screenplay.
Guess what. In the end, the hustler gets hustled. Crime don’t
pay, my friend. Duly noted.
—Michelle Fajkus and Eric Thorlin