Miami, 1959. The perfect playground for the mob and their money.
Created by Mitch Glazer for the Starz network in 2012, Magic City went for 2 seasons and told the story of Ike Evans (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a Miami hotel owner in over his head with the mafia who have a stake in his business. The series was cancelled in 2013 with each season getting a Blu-ray and DVD release. Now, both seasons are being offered together in one complete package.
Set shortly after the Cuban revolution and against the backdrop of attempts to legalize gambling in the state of Florida, the story focuses on Ike and his family as they try to stay one step ahead of mobster Ben Diamond (Danny Huston) who’s hellbent on obtaining controlling interest in the Miramar Playa Hotel. Ike wants nothing to do with Diamond and is looking for a way to push him out, regretting the day he shook hands with the devil and took his money. Meanwhile, all eyes are on the Miramar. Not only is it the hottest attraction in all of Miami, it’s also where many illegal activities are taking place. Whores, gambling, you name it, it’s all a part of the picture. Needless to say, the State attorney’s office also has a great deal of interest in the hotel as well, seeing it as the one puzzle piece that can tie Ben Diamond to all of these illegal activities transpiring. The tension reaches a boiling point near the end of the first season as Ike is placed in a bad situation and right in the path of D.A. Jack Klein (Matt Ross). The second season focuses on the fallout of the case set up against Ike and also branches out to feature stories focusing on post revolution Cuba and the play to gain access to the Casinos left behind as well as the power struggle between Ike, Ben Diamond, and Ben’s superiors in the Chicago syndicate represented by Sy Berman (James Caan). With all this drama taking place, the show is essentially about a family that’s slowly being torn apart. Ike’s two sons are both taking their own paths. Stevie, the older of the two, is interested in going into business for himself but must contend with Diamond as he’s secretly sleeping with his wife. Danny, the smarter son, is well on his way to becoming a lawyer, but not one his father would employ. He’s interested in aiding Jack Klein with his investigation into illegal activities in Miami. Meanwhile Ike’s wife, Vera (Olga Kurylenko), a former showgirl, is trying to find her place in Ike’s world and has made more than a few mistakes in her efforts to do so. Lies, murder and the power play for the most lucrative destination in all of Florida are what fuels the action in Magic City.
When looking at these two seasons back to back, it’s obvious that the first season had a stronger structure to work from. Season 1 tells a cohesive and compelling story that progresses to a season finale climax making the viewer chomp at the bit to find out what happens next. Ike’s power struggle with Ben Diamond is played out slowly and surely, at an almost “cold war” pace, which ratchets up the tension nicely. The introduction of Klein’s investigation into the inciting action of the series and what he’s willing to do to get a conviction is also handled nicely as is the slow unraveling of the illegal act and coverup shown. Each episode built off the next creating not only a compelling story but also developing an interesting world for the characters to play in. In the second season, there are glimmers of this storytelling but not executed nearly as well as they were in the first. The plot lines are stacked up on top of each other with new players and threads introduced in almost every episode. Instead of being caught in between a mobster and a district attorney, Ike is now dealing with two mob families, a group of Cuban nationalists, a D.A. and Castro’s government. On top of this, he’s also entered a strange (and at times strained) business relationship with his deceased first wife’s sister (played by Kelly Lynch) which, unbeknownst to him, is also a power struggle for the Miramar. While there’s never a dull moment, there’s also no time to breath and take in a scene. There’s also a number of secondary plots that appear to go nowhere, including almost everything done with Vera and her attempts to help her husband “save” his business. Thankfully, the performances in both seasons are top notch, for the most part.
When it comes to the acting in Magic City, Jeffrey Dean Morgan does a great job of anchoring the series. He’s strong and convincing as Ike Evans and at times does a great job of making you forget that he is hulk of a man who can take care of himself. He presents a great deal of vulnerability and at times, even sweet sincerity, when dealing with his two loves, his family and his hotel. He also plays the moments of deciding which is more important to perfection. You can see that his decisions are eating him up inside and he’s desperate to not lose his footing. Olga Kurylenko does an excellent job of also maintaining a strong character. This is most impressive as the motivations of her character seem to change on a regular basis. While the actions and decisions of her character appear to be determined on the whim of the writing team on any particular day, Olga is able to maintain a strong presence of performance throughout both seasons. Danny Huston also maintains a strong character throughout and gets more and more menacing as the series progresses. Unfortunately, not all performances are made equal in this series as two major players in the story, Ike’s son Stevie (played by Steven Strait) and Ben’s wife Lily (played by Jessica Marais) are not up to par with their co-stars. Strait appears to have only two emotions, arrogance and anger, with variations on the two used repeatedly. Marais appears to be resting on her looks (and nude scenes, of which there’s a lot in the first season) to carry her through as she seems almost bored whenever she’s in conversation. Thankfully, these two were the exception and not the rule.
Overall, the series is entertaining and engaging and showcases some fantastic characters studies. It was also a great platform for Jeffrey Dean Morgan to show a range in his performance not really covered in his previous work. As a complete series box set, it’s a fun time and includes all of the previous special features that were available on the individual season releases. If you’re looking for a crime series that’s got a bit of panache, Magic City is definitely worth your time. Magic City: The Complete Series is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.
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