The Back Lot – FILM NEWS & RUMINATIONS: ‘The Wire’ for beginners

    What will likely prove to be the best movie of 2008 was released last week. It lasted only an hour, and technically it’s not even a movie, but luckily there are 12 more installments yet to be seen. It is HBO’s dazzlingly complex and subtle “The Wire,” in its fifth and final season. Often considered the best drama ever shown on television (it makes “The Sopranos” seem like a comic strip by comparison), its reappearance is a godsend in the wake of an entertainment-free holiday. “The Wire,” for the unaddicted, combines Altmanesque, intersecting plot lines with a brutal, violent realism of speech and subject matter that makes most hard-boiled Hollywood products look like Girl Scouts instructional training guides.

    In the beginning, the show focused on dope dealing in Baltimore’s roughest housing projects. Season 2 was about waterfront smuggling among hardscrabble Polish dockworkers. The following year sought to resolve (somewhat) the drug wars of Season 1. Last season focused on the breakdown of the urban public school system. All along, though, the grand theme of writer David Simon’s epic has been the overall collapse of American society — structurally, economically, politically and spiritually.

    This season strikes a chord in that it deals with journalism and the supposed decline of the Great American Newspaper. At the same time, them boys keep slingin’ that dope on the corner, and it’s the same old sad story. Along with a political corruption subplot, this is the story the Baltimore Sun’s reporters are covering as Season 5 begins.

    The newsroom scenes introduce us to a handful of new characters, the most compelling of whom is the city desk editor played by veteran Clark Johnson (“Homicide”). The street scenes reacquaint us with all our older, favorite characters (most of them anyway: Omar, Snoop, McNulty, Greggs, Herc and Carver, Marlo, Bubbles and Proposition Joe), played by perhaps the finest ensemble cast ever assembled. And not one big movie star among them. —Paul Kopasz