Of all the mainstays in Las Vegas, there’s probably none more associated with Sin City than Mr. Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton. Yeah, I’ve never heard of him, either. Probably because I’ve never been to Vegas, but I digress. Why do I mention a man who has made his career singing in Las Vegas casinos? Well, Mr. Newton has a cameo as a jealous, homicidal husband in Dana Packard’s 40 West, which has garnered several awards and nominations on the independent scene since it’s release in 2011. Aside from showcasing the man whose signature song was used in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, what else does the film offer?
40 West stars Jennifer Nichole Porter as Maeve, a blues singer who’s not having the greatest of days. After having her car break down and her purse stolen, Maeve appears to be saved by Elijah (Scott Winters), a self-confessed fan of her music. Elijah sets Maeve up in a seedy East Texas motel, but it turns out that the whole thing was a setup orchestrated by Maeve’s violent ex-con hubby, Colin (Brian A. White). Colin set up Maeve’s predicament in order to apologize for his past scumbag ways and to give her a gift. Unfortunately, Colin’s jailhouse girlfriend Arlene (Kathleen Kimball) shows up to complicate things. To stir the pot even more, Arlene’s husband Bud (the above-mentioned Wayne Newton) is none too happy about his wife cheating on her with Colin, and decides to track them down, revolver in hand.
Surprisingly, despite sounding like a lame soap opera, 40 West manages to impress with some great acting from almost everyone involved. Between Jennifer Nicole Porter and Brian White’s interactions, you can’t help but feel for Maeve and the crap that she’s had to put up with from Colin. She pretty much takes everything that he dishes out and stands her ground. As for Colin, the dude’s dark and sinister for much of the time he’s with Maeve, and cranks it up when Bud shows up. Speaking of which, Wayne Newton isn’t as bad as you’d think. On the contrary, he’s quite believable as your cocktail-sipping, stogie-smoking husband with a bone to pick. As for Kathleen Kimball, she too was engaging as Arlene. Plus as a stripper, she didn’t look half bad. Going hand in hand with the acting is the story. It’s straightforward but also engaging, given that this is a dialogue-heavy film that almost entirely takes place in one location. Kudos to Jennifer Nicole Porter (who pulled double duty on the script) and director Packard for accomplishing all of that in a low budget film like this.
On the negative side of things, the film’s length threatens to have things drag out at 120 minutes. Compounding things is the fact that this film is slow to reveal everything, which is good (since it is a story-driven film, after all), but at the same time threatens to turn viewers off it they’re not keeping up. As well, Scott Winters’ Elijah was probably one of the weaker performances. It was very one-dimensional, and lacked the emotion when it was really needed. Finally, the twists in the plot aren’t all that surprising once they’re let out to play, but they keep the story going, so it’s not entirely negative.
On a whole, 40 West was an enjoyable thriller that was surprisingly good, given its origins. While some people might be turned off the slow pacing and lack of consistent action, persistence does pay off for those looking for excellent acting and an engrossing story that tends to wander the dark side of things. Not bad for a film that has Wayne Newton relieving himself behind a tree.
Video/Audio: Filmed using the RED One camera, details are captured perfectly in this 1.78:1 transfer. Being mainly shot in one location, we’re treated to visuals that look a polished but with a sleazy side to it (it is a motel, after all). As for the sound, the 5.1 Dolby Digital track is great, focusing on the dialogue and giving attention to the score and ambient effects when needed.
Extras: In lieu of putting the trailer on the disc (why companies decide to leave it out but stick start-up trailers on the disc instead…), we’re treated to a 40-minute making-of featurette that goes pretty in-depth with all aspects of the film’s production. Mixing talking heads with on-set footage, you really do get the sense that these people really enjoyed working on the film, and it shows. Special props for showing the craft service table. I wish I had those desserts.