Stars: Michael Madsen, Shayla Beesley, Paz de la Huerta, Jon Palladino and Roxy Saint
Now, don’t get me wrong, Michael Madsen plays the character we expect, merely renamed here from Ted Binion to Ray Easler, and what he goes through is the story we expect. The difference is that we don’t get to see much of it at all, because it tends to unfold offscreen, out of our sight and, more importantly, out of sight of Kim Davis, the Sandy Murphy equivalent, because, while this is Easler’s story, we’re watching it unfold from Davis’s perspective. Initially this feels a little off and it gets progressively more off until we twig to the approach that John Steppling (writing as John Melmoth) and director John Evans took. We don’t watch Easler grow, because we join his story when Kim does. We don’t meet his estranged wife, because he keeps her away from his girlfriend. We’re never a fly on the wall to his business meetings as she’s not there. We don’t find out just how much danger he’s in until bullets are fired through their house windows. We’re kept out of the loop because Kim is kept out of the loop. Only our experience fills in the gaps.
By comparison to these two, Kim seems to be doing well. Sure, taking off her clothes in front of strangers and giving head to rich guys in broken down buildings is hardly a dream job, but she’s a pretty girl, she’s able to say no to free drugs and she knows not to admit who she is to a stranger who knocks on her door. Well, at least not until he explains that he’s Easler’s chauffeur with $2,500 to pick up Miss Davis for a lap dance. And so the relationship begins. She knows that he’s married. She knows that she’s just the young and pretty girl to hang on his arm in public and service him in private. She knows that it’s not going to be this way forever. But hey, he buys her a car and a horse and takes her to posh dinners. He owns the town. Beesley plays Kim like she’s a fish out of water who’s trying very hard to learn how to swim. She’s also not just Ray’s girl, she’s his mother and his nurse and his conscience, and when she occasionally recites, ‘Yeah, baby, whatever you want,’ sometimes she actually means it.
I ended up on the side of the actress, because everything we see is centred on her character and I didn’t think that the picture would have progressed without the filmmakers being in tune with her performance. Also, she’s depicted with more sympathy than what little I know of the real events might suggest. Within the film, she’s the most sympathetic of the few main characters, even though she starts out as a stripper, becomes a trophy girlfriend and ends up cheating on her meal ticket with one of his colleagues, publicly too. However, she’s also a voice of reason who constantly works on Ray to quit his burgeoning drug use, a calm presence in his life who only gets into one shouting match in the entire film (truly unprecedented) and someone who apparently comes to actually care for him, even if she never planned it. In real life, the equivalent character was arrested for his murder, along with a batch of other charges such as conspiracy, robbery, grand larceny and burglary, tried, found guilty and locked up, until a second trial freed her.
Visually it’s capable, with the production given access to a variety of locations and props that help to sell the affluence of Ray Easler without having to resort to cheap tricks. Regular viewers of indie features will see where money isn’t spent where Hollywood would have spent it, but it spends enough to work. Only in the supporting roles does its indie nature really show up, because some of the actors who get a line here and there clearly aren’t up to the standards of the rest of the production. A few are capable, like Charidy Wronski as a policewoman and some polite but knowing ranchhands, whose names I failed to catch, but most are not. Other weaker aspects include some slower scenes in the middle portion of the film and the way that the ending is left open wider that it should have been, given just how much has been published on this case and is readily available for anyone to explore by simply searching in Wikipedia, especially in regards to Easler’s fortune in silver and the favourable treatment given to Kim Davis.