You get the feeling this was going to be good, without even seeing it, based purely on it's CV: Martin Scorsese, Steve Buscemi, writers from The Sopranos, HBO, multi-million dollar budget, setting in Atlantic City 1920s, Prohibition. And it is good. The period is rich with material and characters: Arnold Rothstein, the suffragette movement, Warren Harding and the Ohio gang (and his mistress), Eddie Cantor, Al Capone, the Klan – there’s dancing girls and corrupt officials and migrants and black gangsters. And whenever things get slow they can liven it up with someone being executed.
Strong acting across the board – Buscemi is great as a crooked politician who tries to do the right thing; Kelly McDonald is very winning as the woman who becomes his mistress (no nude scene from her, even though it was HBO); Michael Pitt is good too in a showy part as Buscemi’s protégé, college educated and war-shocked; Gretchen Mol is terrific as Pitt’s mother! (plenty of nudity from her); Michael Shannon is outstanding as the tormented federal agent. Other parts are good, too: Buscemi’s bitter brother, the black gangster, the war veteran with half his face shot off, the doomed prostitute, Harding’s stupid mistress. The production values are terrific and the story has some genuine shock. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t run for the whole 1920s.
NB Even though it’s mostly set in Atlantic City, they can’t resist going a few times to Chicago. It's as if the writers were going, "please, please, can we visit, just for a bit...?"