Making lots of money is always the big dream for those who don’t
have it. Having intelligence is a form of achieving the goal, but
what area the intelligence comes from is a different matter. Whether
you come from a bad or good environment, how you make money, at
least illegally, comes from the same. In Franc Reyes’s first feature
film EMPIRE, he shows an unoriginal portrayal of how illegal money
leads to a road of misery, but John Leguizamo’s captivating portrayal
is enough to lead the film to past most of the cliche scenes we
come to expect.
Victor Rosa (Leguizamo) is a wealthy man in his South Bronx neighborhood.
The kids respect him and he even has admirers. He is also a big-time
drug dealer. When not “working”, he looks for ways to lavish his
girlfriend Carmen (Cotto) with gifts. While at college, Carmen’s
schoolmate Trish (Richards) notices the latest gift from Victor
and invites Carmen to bring her boyfriend to a party she’s throwing
with her boyfriend. At first reluctant, Victor agrees to go to make
Carmen. While looking at how beautiful the place is, Victor meets
Jack, Trish’s boyfriend, and a Wall St. investment banker. While
encouraging Victor to invest in his businesses and make money, Carmen
starts to feel detached from Victor. Victor uproots himself and
Carmen to the Tribeca area and his boys starts to feel betrayed.
While torn between going legit and losing his friends, unexpected
events put Victor’s empire in peril.
Reyes wrote the film based on his own experience while living in
the Bronx and he does a good job capturing the small details one
might notice. The small apartments down to the crowded room filled
with relatives. From “Scarface” to “Carlito’s Way”, this film serves
as a brother. There’s no new approach here, but what made those
films stand out applies in this film as well. The main character
is always appealing and Leguizamo shines in his role as Victor.
He has the look and talk down pat. Newcomer Cotto holds her own
as the girlfriends who has put up with the change in Victor’s life.
Fat Joe and Treach are completely wasted in their “cameos”. Richards,
who most recently played the “White She-Devil” in “Undercover Brother”
is okay in her role but her lines, were the worst in the film. Sarsgaard
is very believable and sincere in his role as Jack. The soundtrack
to the film features a list of today’s best artist from India Arie
to Jon Secada. Reyes wrote 4 of the tracks and it’s fantastic and
worth listening. Overall, nothing new is learned from Empire but
you gain a new appreciation for John Leguizamo through his bravado