Review: Empire Falls

Danielle Panabaker and Ed Harris in Empire Falls

The novel Empire Falls by Richard Russo is one of the best novels I’ve ever read. The book was rich, detailed, full of memorable characters and built to an exciting climax. Adapting that to a 2-part TV mini-series must have been a daunting project. Richard Russo wrote the screenplay himself. 

Considering the choices that had to be made to reduce the complexity of the novel to fit into a 3.5 hour TV format, Russo did a great job adapting his novel for television. Empire Falls, the TV series, is very good. Maybe not the best TV series I’ve ever seen, but very good.

I remember the book so well. I remember how vivid the characters were. What had to be left out for TV were some of the complexities of the female characters. Miles Roby (Ed Harris) is the main character. Miles’ journey is the one that matters most.

Secondary to that is Miles’ daughter Tick (Danielle Panabaker), his ex-wife Janine (Helen Hunt), the waitress in his diner Charlene (Theresa Russell), his ex mother-in-law Bea (Estelle Parsons), and the villain in the piece – the very rich Francine Whiting (Joanne Woodward). While I’m naming the important women in Miles’ life, I cannot forget his mother, played only in flashbacks by Robin Wright.

Other important characters in the story of this small town in Maine are Miles’ dad (Paul Newman), his brother David (Aidan Quinn), his mother’s lover (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and the man who’s about to marry his former wife (Dennis Farina). John Voss (Lou Taylor Pucci) is a teen who made a huge difference in Tick’s life, and for the entire town.

Swirling around all those people we have troubled teens, crooked cops and their bully offspring, a crippled rich girl (Kate Burton), reporters and priests. A big cast, a big story. At the time (2005), the cast held five Oscar winners – Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Helen Hunt, Estelle Parsons and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and one Oscar nominee – Ed Harris. What a cast! What a brilliant story they were telling.

The Plot of Empire Falls

I can’t come close to summarizing the plot of this complicated story. I’ll just mention a couple of high points.

Miles Roby runs a diner in the decaying factory town of Empire Falls, Maine. He’s a locked up kind of guy who doesn’t express much out loud. His life, and the lives of everyone in the town, are controlled by the matriarch of the rich Whiting family. She lives in the big house across the river.

Events in the story trigger memories for him and he flashes back to his childhood, his mother and her relationship with one of the Whiting men, and his father’s vagabond ways.

Tick, his daughter, is in high school. She befriends a student named John. John hides dark secrets and is picked on by everyone around him. John incites an explosive event in the small town when he finally reaches his breaking point. Miles is a great dad. The event with John really brings that fact home.

Miles works through his present circumstances with his father, brother, daughter and ex-wife. He’s busy processing his past as well. He finally passes through some sort of barrier that’s been holding him back all his life and is able to move on. Way to go, Miles.

This was Paul Newman’s last big part. (He did a few small things after this.) Even scruffed up and unkempt, the man cannot help but be handsome. He died in 2008. A lifetime of great acting. A lifetime of great parts. This one was no exception.

The two-part series is available on Amazon video as of May 1. I advise you to catch it while you can. It may disappear after a while and I don’t see it on Netflix, iTunes or Hulu.

Watch the Trailer for Empire Falls

1 thought on “Review: Empire Falls”

  1. Your review was so intriguing. I’ve decided to look for the book (borrow or buy). I’m always seeking out well-written literature. Then I’ll do my best to see the movie. I do have Netflix, so shouldn’t be impossible!

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