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Luck

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Dennis Farina, Dustin Hoffman | LUCK Joan Allen, Dustin Hoffman, John Ortiz, and Dennis Farina
Gusmano Cesaretti/HBO

Debuts Jan. 29, 9 p.m.

HBO

Luck is an entrancing mixture of beautiful horses, stumblebum gamblers, exciting races, and a tightly controlled yet open, emotional performance by Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman is Chester “Ace” Bernstein, recently released from a three-year prison stint; he took the fall for someone else, but is back to stake his claim as a gambling-industry wheeler-dealer. That’s one plot. Here’s another: Four schmoes, led by Jason Gedrick, hang out at the Santa Anita racetrack; all agree to bet the same numbers on a Pick 6, and end up splitting a $2 million-plus jackpot. And yet another: Nick Nolte is a barely-scraping-by horse trainer who’s turning his current charge into a potential champion steed.

There’s a lot more as well. As written by David Milch (Deadwood), with a pilot directed by Michael Mann, Luck is a luxuriously layered drama that uses the built-in, quick-burst excitement of the horse races to pace the more languid subplots that occur in the stables where the horses live and the posh hotel where Ace takes up residence. This is a brave piece of work, going against the blood-thunder-and-mud style of Game of Thrones or the lacquered polish of Boardwalk Empire. I suspect Luck will need its own kind of good fortune to persuade HBO subscribers to get on its wavelength — to go with the undulating rhythm of its storytelling. But it’s worth the effort. A-

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