Based on the true story of the biggest cash robbery in U.S. history, Dito Montiel’s Empire State tells its tale simply and occasionally effectively. Plotting gets in the way sometimes, and the tale seems a little muddled in the flashback technique adopted by the director and his screenwriter, but the movie has some authentic feel for the early 1980s (especially for a film made on a low budget), and it contains some characters whom we’d love to have gotten to know better.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish
Run Time: 1 Hr. 34 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, UltraVioletkeep case with slipcover
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Release Date: 09/03/2013
When he gets turned down for entrance in the police academy, Chris Potamitis (Liam Hemsworth) goes to work for the Empire Security Company, an armored truck and security service in Astoria, New York. After working there for awhile, he begins to notice an almost complete absence of security on the premises on the weekends, surprising since the company holds tens of millions of dollars in a less than secure vault. After blabbing what he knows to his best friend Eddie (Michael Angarano), Chris is angry to learn that Eddie has tried to plan a heist with low level gangsters from the local Greek mob Mike (Greg Vrotsos) and Jimmy (Jerry Ferrara) without telling head man Spyro (Chris Diamantopoulos) who will not take kindly if he finds a million dollar robbery has gone down without his involvement. When the cops led by Detective James Ransome (Dwayne Johnson) get tipped about a potential heist, they arrive and thwart a different crew trying to make off with the company’s money. This spooks Chris who calls everything off, but that’s not going to stop the hot-headed Eddie who is willing to risk prison or death in order to get his hands on some real money.
The Production Rating: 3/5
Made on a small budget and mostly in New Orleans, it’s rather remarkable that director Dito Montiel establishes the feel of the early 1980s and Astoria, Queens in the film as well as he does. Casting has a lot to do with that accurate feel of the period’s time and place, and that’s the best thing that can be said about his direction. Otherwise, it’s a rather routinely helmed film with only a few snatches of style (the end of a shootout caught in a doorway is quite evocative; an earlier shootout in which a character is shot and killed is a jumble of bits and pieces that seem incongruous). Adam Mazer’s script gets a little murky especially near the end when the claims are that none of the money (estimates range as high as $12 million) was recovered when, of course, the aforementioned shootout should have resulted in at least $8 million recovered (or the equivalent amount in cocaine). The entire story earns its unique interest on film in that it seems completely inconceivable that a successful robbery could have been pulled off by the film’s two protagonists who combined don’t seem to have the brains of a pencil. (Real-life film clips included in the movie of the real Chris Potamitis suggest someone much craftier than the Chris of the film).
Liam Hemsworth does a good job disguising his Aussie accent (though he doesn’t quite get the Queens accent or cadence right) as Chris, but Michael Angarano as irritating and off-putting as his motor mouth best friend Eddie is makes his character seem flagrantly real. (Though one wonders why a person would remain close pals with someone as self-interested and reckless as Eddie is; it speaks to Chris’ real lack of intelligence to put his life in the hands of someone who will always put his needs and desires first.) Michael Rispoli has a touching few scenes as Chris’ work mentor Tony, and as Chris’ loving and concerned parents, Paul Ben-Victor and Sharon Angela are aces. Fine actor Chris Diamantopoulos doesn’t seem to have quite the force or stature to be as menacing as necessary as Spyros (Greg Vrotsos who plays tough guy Mike would seem to have fit the bill better as Spyros), but Dwayne Johnson brings his charisma to bear on all of his scenes as Detective Ransome. Emma Roberts gets second billing as Chris’ neighborhood friend Nancy Michaelides, but her role is less than essential to the movie.
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 is faithfully rendered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Though color saturation levels are a little erratic (sometimes resulting in flesh tones that are almost glowing in intensity), in the main the image is strikingly natural and appealing with excellent sharpness and consistent contrast throughout. Black levels are also outstanding with impressive shadow detail. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is mostly very effective. Though the film’s budget restricts the use of ambient sounds placed throughout the soundstage on a consistent basis for a New York City-based movie, what is there is quite effectual. Dialogue has been well recorded and has been placed in the center channel. The music by David Wittman gets a nice spread through the fronts and rears and is the mix’s most consistent use of the surrounds.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Audio Commentary: director Dito Montiel offers dribbles of information that come and go during the film’s running time. Not particularly interesting.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
Three Deleted Scenes (2:34, 3:45, 3:00, HD): must be selected individually. There is no “Play All” feature.
Creating an Empire (10:28, HD): director Dito Montiel along with one the film’s producers and stars Dwayne Johnson, Michael Angarano, and Jerry Ferrara offer brief sound bites about the story and production.
Anatomy of a Heist (15:23, HD): the best featurette on the disc presents the real Chris Potamitis being interviewed by director Dito Montiel about the real heist.
Theatrical Trailer (2:33, HD)
Promo Trailers (HD): Snitch, Freelancers, and Fire with Fire.
Ultraviolet: instruction sheet and code enclosed
A surprising real life cash heist gets a rather routine treatment in Dito Montiel’s Empire State. A good video and audio transfer and an interesting interview with the real-life perpetrator accounts for the strongest elements of this release.
Overall Rating: 3/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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