Death in the Desert (2014) – Jim Morazzini


The latest film from Josh Evans, Death in the Desert is based on the true crime book Death in the Desert: The True Story of Money, Murder and Mystery in Sin City by Cathy Scott but for some reason the names of those involved have been changed.  The story concerns the events leading up to the death of casino executive Ted Binion, (renamed Ray Easler for the film). Apart from being a casino exec and son of a casino owner he was also a cocaine and heroin addict which had caused him considerable legal issues. After he was found dead of an overdose his girlfriend and a male accomplice were convicted of his murder. Then in an odd turn of events were acquitted on appeal, but still found guilty of conspiring to kill him.  What really happened will probably never truly be known.

The film itself is more of a drama, looking at the dysfunctional lives of those involved and the abusive relationship between him and his ex stripper girlfriend. It makes a lot of good points about wealth and power and how they can’t overcome one’s personal demons such as a low self image. Here is a man who had it all and should have been on top of the world. Instead he needed to hold himself together with massive quantities of drugs and abuse his equally troubled girlfriend in order to feel powerful. When she falls for the man he hires to bury a large chunk of his fortune in the desert things go from ugly to dangerous.

This is a well made film, but it didn’t really work for me. I was hoping for more on the crime and trial and wasn’t really that into another drama about screwed up rich folk. For those who like this kind of drama it’s probably going to be a much more enjoyable film. Despite my disappointment it did hold my interest, and Michael Madsen actually gives a good performance, unlike so many recent films where he seems to be sleepwalking. Shayla Beesley who I remembered from Perkins 14 is also good as his girlfriend.

It’s well mounted and well shot, Evans is a talented filmmaker, and it’s interesting to see him here working on a film financed and made totally as an independent. For those that don’t know he’s the son of Ali MacGraw and Robert Evens and he’s shown he has both of their genes with his careers both in front of and behind the camera.

So, while this wasn’t the film I was hoping it would be it still wasn’t a waste of my time. And for those who like dramas, it should be an enjoyable watch.