What first struck me about Amir Naderi’s film “Vegas” is how Iranian it looks; it looks and feels Iranian, and happens to be set in Las Vegas (the non-shiny part of the city, which tourists don’t visit). Symbolic possibilities are everywhere in this small world Naderi constructed around a narrative of a poor, three-person family who dig up their yard in search for a treasure.
The arid desert contrasting with the tomato plants which the mother grows in a makeshift greenhouse near the house. The dazzle of the casinos in the distance versus the pathetic strips that cater to the weather-beaten locals. For the money shot, found at the end of “Vegas,” Naderi superimposes the family’s excavated yard with a closeup of their last unbroken pot of flowers. Done by a Western filmmaker this would have been quickly dismissed as first-year film school conceit. But here it works beautifully.
The American West has always looked gorgeous on film and Las Vegas, even the part of town without the glitter, looks cool in Naderi’s film. And for us New Yorkers who live in cramped quarters and have to deal with the subway, the dusty desert town has allure, even if it’s on the wrong side of the strip. I’d love to disappear a few days behind the craggy facades of the strip and when I’ve had enough to barrel out into the desert in an old Chevy. But Eddie Parker (Mark Greenfield) can’t get way like me.
He’s stuck working at a used tire shop and beating old demons away constantly. Both he and his diner-employed wife (Nancy La Scala) are former gamblers. Eddie has a furtiveness about him and seems ready to mosey on back to the bar at the slightest of life’s disappointments. Tracy has difficulty turning down the constant wagers that take place at her restaurant, wagers on how much tip a customer is going to leave, for example.
Their young son Mitch (Zach Thomas), fortunately, is just like any other teenager. Tracy runs her small household with an iron fist and some very firm dos and donts, but you slowly discover the faults and the crevices in the protective barrier she has erected around them. It’s like this family wants something to happen, something different, or better and Naderi did a good job of showing us that. Everything does change after a young marine (Walt Turner) just back from Iraq shows up on their doorstep. His Madoffian offer soon turns into the family’s obsession and leads to their unhurried and devastating collapse.
How deep is the family willing to dig? I will let you discover for yourself. Naderi’s film, while of great interest, does suffer from a couple of flaws. The dialogue can seem stilted at times and lines can sound like lines rather than actual dialogue. Maybe in Farsi this kind of script would have sufficed, but in English cliches are too ready to rear their ugly heads at the slightest provocation, unfortunately. Also, Naderi’s film could have used a soundtrack. You won’t hear me say this very often since I like that a director choses to go with no music. It’s different, as they say. But in this case, the slightly underwhelming “Vegas” could have used a little pick-me-up in the form of some good ol’country or what-have-you. It would have helped liven up the one-hundred one minutes running time which at times seemed more like one-hundred twenty.
But I don’t mind these faults too much. “Vegas” is a thing of beauty and Naderi succeeds at showing us every little downward step in this family’s undoing before finally unleashing mayhem upon them. Noone would have imagined that their downfall would be self-inflicted.