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Dustin Hoffman rides his Luck on Sky Atlantic | reviews, news & interviews

Dustin Hoffman rides his Luck on Sky Atlantic

Dustin Hoffman rides his Luck on Sky Atlantic

Thoroughbred cast and brilliant on-track action in complex horse opera

Hoffman (right) as Ace Bernstein, with Dennis Farina as Gus Demitriou

Further advancing the theory that television is the place for pedigree actors to be seen nowadays, Dustin Hoffman makes his TV debut in HBO's Luck, which kicks off on Saturday 18 February on Sky Atlantic.

A complex, multi-stranded saga about horse racing and the rich mix of characters who swarm around it, Luck is directed by Michael Mann (of Heat, Miami Vice and Manhunter fame) and written and created by David Milch, whose credits include NYPD Blue and Deadwood.

Hoffman, who plays just-out-of-jail crime boss Chester "Ace" Bernstein, recalled how he'd finally been lured to the small screen.

"Michael Mann called me and said 'I know you don't want to do television... you're not gonna do this, but this is one of the best scripts I've ever read. Would you just read it?' So I read it, and I said 'I really liked the parts I understood'."

Many viewers may echo Hoffman's last comment after watching the opening episode. We meet a wide cross-section of characters whose intentions and relationships are initially far from clear, from horse trainers Turo Escalante (John Ortiz) and Walter Smith (Nick Nolte, pictured above with four-legged friend) to assorted jockeys, dubious businessmen, vets and agents. Dennis Farina shines as Bernstein's driver and right-hand man Gus Demitriou. Big chunks of screen time are allotted to a seedy quartet of "railbirds" (which includes Kevin Dunn and Ian Hart), hardcore racetrack gamblers who pool their cash in pursuit of a "Pick Six" accumulator bet which stands to net them $2.6m. There's a lot of arcane slang about odds, racing and gambling which cries out for an accompanying leaflet.

Still, where Luck really scores is in its evident passion for the nags and their colourful milieu, which in this case means the rather beautiful Santa Anita track in California. David Milch owns racehorses and has obviously spent far too much time in the racing environment, while Mann has shot the racing sequences with a mix of cinematic splendour and palpitating, visceral excitement. As Mann put it:  "We're trying to tell you lots and lots and lots of messages subliminally. One is that the horses have personality. They're characters - it's a life around them."

 Luck begins on Sky Atlantic at 9pm on Saturday 18 February

There's a lot of arcane slang about odds, racing and gambling which cries out for an accompanying leaflet

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