Boss is a must-see for all of us who are concerned, worried and outraged about the current shape of our social, economic and political conditions, not only in America but the world. It is a meticulously-crafted cinematic work intended to entertain while simultaneously demonstrating, questioning and wondering as to why we humans are corruptible and have been so through the ages.
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It is stimulating and thought-provoking but deftly, subtly and politely leaves the judgment to the viewer.
Not since Westwing, starring the great Martin Sheen, have I seen or heard of a fictional television mini-series with socio-political dimensions, which comes close to the caliber of Boss, an eight-hour Starz Channel production which ended last Friday. The first season will be re-shown starting Monday, December 26 on cable, satellite and direct TV. Or, you can get it on-line. Boss differs from Westwing, in substance, design, intent, mood and outlook. It is much more pernicious and outrageous. It is similar to it only as it relates to the lives and acts of political leaders. But, Boss shows us the hidden side. Both productions, however, endeavor to take great strides in elevating the status of for-profit home screen up to the level of public television’s Masterpiece Theater and the best of documentaries while competing with the best motion pictures such as God Father, Platoon and All the President’s Men.
Boss is a different type of made-for-TV movie. It is a fiction but feels like a docudrama. It is also masterfully thrilling, suspenseful, intriguing, and awe-inspiring. Yes, it also has profanity, sex and blood.
Kelsey Grammer, the acting legend of television’s comics “Cheers” and “Frasier”, is now demonstrating his electrifying dramatic abilities as the autocratic and fearsome mayor of Chicago, Tom Kane, the Boss. His performance is so powerful that after watching the first episode my imagination transformed Grammer, the actor, into the indispensable mayor of that city. (I remembered the real Boss of Chicago who ruled in the sixties and seventies). And, after watching the eighth episode diligently, I felt I was in the same daze as when I had read King Lear and Citizen Kane.
The story was created and written by Farhad Safinia, of Apocalypto fame, and he, with the help of luminaries such as Gus Van Sant, Brian Sher, Richard Levine, Lyn Greene, Stella Bulochnikov, Grammer and others wrote the acting scripts and executive-produced it. Most of the initial reviews were so positive that the financers decided to produce the second series before the first episode of the first series was aired in October. It is a thriller. But it is meant for highly intellectual and mature audiences. This is no film made for TV to increase the consumption of beer and popcorn. And, if you have no patience to watch each show alertly, keep the frequently alternating scenes in your head, and, concentrate to memorize names, dates and places, then, this set of movies is not for you.
Safinia, unlike Shakespeare, uses the colloquial American English esoterically to dissect and expose the current socio-political psyche of America’s power-politics, power-economics, power-corruption, power-control, power-immorality and power-ego-tripping. He brings into action highly profound issues of life, liberty, prosperity, justice and the “promised” democracy. Who rules America and how do they do it? How do our elite pursue their goals? What means do they use? Does the end justify the means? Any means? Is timely garbage collection from the streets more important than the democratic process? Is staying in power for the benefit of the rich and powerful more valuable that the lives of innocent children? Is might, any might, always right? Kane, becomes so drunk with the arrogance of his power that nothing and no-one could or would stand in his way. He even would use his wife and the one and only daughter as instrumental objects to maintain and accumulate raw power. Then, he becomes sick. Would the thought of his mortality transform him into a better or worse person? Watch, analyze and form your own take.
In a preview of the series, Safinia says of the fictitious mayor “he is not a bad guy, but, he does very, very bad things.” What has happened to American politics? Why does a political leader have to do bad things to stay in power? Why do we, the people, or at least most of us, keep silent and acquiesce to the perpetual state of undemocratic conduct and, indeed, tyrannical rule by some members of our elite? Safinia identifies, analyses, and brings to our attention what is and what is not possible. He evokes that notion once uttered by Don Quixote: you realists want the world the way it is. We idealists want it the way it should be.
To call Boss “….a sinister melodrama that defies common sense and cheapens the thrill of bad behavior”, as Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times does, is insulting to the audience. Of course we know that not all politicians, even the late Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago, were that way or that bad. Safinia’s job, as an artist and social critic, is not to simply chronicle and report the society’s people and events. He laboriously has created and assembled several plots into his story simultaneously and, at times, he does border on exaggeration and satire, in order to capture our attention and drive his points. And, he does it eloquently. Francis Coppola did not mean that most of Italian American leaders belong to the Mafia and Charles Dickens did not brand all wealthy people as being Scrooge.
Boss is not just a magnificent work of theatrical production. It is a biting critique of our collective social malaise. It is a call to action. It is a courageous indictment by Safinia, and his eclectic cast and crew, of our corruptible nature when we gain power (and/or money). But, it is also an inspiring testament to our resiliency that, despite all odds, we keep dreaming, wishing and trying (the reporter, the daughter, the neurologist).The tale needles our inner being to awaken, motivate and strive for correction. It is a condemnation of the bad. It is a tribute to the good. Kane, himself, vacillates between man the vulgar and man the noble. For a relatively new writer-producer in Hollywood, Farhad Safinia has now proven his extraordinary intelligence to see the dark side of our political/corporate existence and boldly devise an exemplary artistic creation to tell us about it.