One of my favorite things to do, when I became of appropriate age, was to go see the horseraces at Garden State Park, the racetrack near where I grew up in New Jersey. Seeing the horses, analyzing their histories, the trainers and jockeys, it was all very easy to get swept up in the excitement of the race and the lure of picking winners. The Beloved loves horseracing, too, and is even more of a student of the sport than me. We still love to enjoy a day at the races here in California.
So, we were really excited this past year to watch the new HBO drama “Luck” from the power team of David Milch (“Deadwood”) and Michael Mann. The show starred Dustin Hoffman and a slew of other great actors (Nick Nolte, Dennis Farina, Joan Allen, that guy that played Dumbledore). It focused on the lives and fortunes of the people around Santa Anita, the racetrack just outside of Los Angeles: big wigs, grizzled track veterans, jockeys, trainers, and even a couple of the horses.
Many reviews called the storytelling opaque, and I’ll agree that “Luck” demanded the attention of its viewers. There was little exposition explaining exactly what was going on during training sessions or discussions of wagering strategies, so I can see where some folks felt adrift in the dialog. Characters shrugged and mumbled. There was little oratory. Glances and body language were as important as dialog. Santa Anita in a gauzy morning light was a thing of beauty. The horseracing scenes were electric, making the viewer feel as if they were right there among the pounding hooves, and captured the both the strength and grace of thoroughbred horses.
“Luck” was beautifully shot, skillfully written, and wonderfully acted. Was? Yes, was. “Luck” was suspended by the Milch and Mann in March after a third horse was euthanized due to injuries during production, and HBO cancelled the show shortly thereafter. “Luck” ambitiously tried to realistically portray horseracing, and despite what I’m sure what was every effort, they were unable to keep injuries from occurring during their choreographed races. I get it– at that point you have to hang them up.
We finished watching it this weekend and one thing I can do is say if you have any interest in great storytelling, top-rate acting, and gorgeous cinematography stream it, or rent it. The one season doesn’t have a big cliffhanger and the story arcs’ conclusions finish such that the whole thing was very satisfying — and in this day of multi-season arcs, it’s sometimes nice to know that there’s a good story in one season.
Give it a shot.