Death, Drugs and Deception
To be frank the name Ted Binion means nothing to me, I had never heard of him, his murder or the following court cases surrounding it that is until I watched "Sex and Lies in Sin City". I had heard of Matthew Modine, Mena Suvari, Marcia Gay Harden and Johnathon Schaech who all appear in this TV movie and that more than anything is the reason why I decided to watch it. The other is that whilst I had never heard of Binion I did realise that "Sex and Lies in Sin City" was based on a true story and basically whilst recreating what happened also came up with a theory behind his murder and it is this side of the movie which interested me.
Having inherited the Las Vegas casino which his father built, larger than life Ted Binion (Matthew Modine - Any Given Sunday) falls for Sandy (Mena Suvari - Day of the Dead) a pole dancer and they spend 3 years together. In those 3 years Ted spirals into a world of drugs and paranoia leading him to ask building contractor Rick Tabish (Johnathon Schaech - Angels Fall) to build a concrete vault in the desert to bury his $7 million in silver bars. But when Sandy discovers Ted dead in their home the media goes wild over what happened and with his sister Becky (Marcia Gay Harden) disliking Sandy sets out to prove that in some way she was involved in his death.
Now not knowing the ins and outs of the court case which attracted media attention I cannot say how much of "Sex and Lies in Sin City" is fact and fiction but it is certainly a blend of both as it serves up a possible theory as to what happened. But before it gets to that theory it mixes back story with what happened following Binion's death as we learn all about the relationships between various people. We learn how stripper Sandy Murphy came to be Ted's partner for 3 years prior to his death and how Ted's sister disliked her from the out set. At the same time we also find out about how Ted met building contractor Rick Tabish and how he ended up in an affair with Sandy whilst Ted descended into a world of drug abuse and paranoia. Or at least this is what we are told because some of what we see in the recreation is most certainly a blend of fact and fiction.
Whilst all of this back story is going on it is mixed with Sandy finding Ted dead and what happened following that as Ted's sister was sure that Sandy had murdered her brother. And so we watch as the story weaves its way to a court case where both Sandy and Rick are not only accused of murder but also burglary as they went after Ted's money, a vault of silver buried in the desert. And then as in the true story we get the retrial when issues over the original trial cause the decisions to be over turned.
All of which is quite interesting especially for someone who doesn't know the ins and outs of the case and it is just as interesting when we get the theory of what did happen. But here is the thing, the actual theory of what happened to Ted, as to how he died ends up taking up just a few minutes of the movie as it spends so much time going over its version of the facts. And as such I am sure for those who do know the details of the case will find it a bit of a slog, waiting for this theory to arrive and then feeling a little disappointed in how quickly it is dealt with.
Despite this "Sex and Lies in Sin City" is both interesting and entertaining and it is entertaining thanks to the performances which doesn't necessary mean they are good. Knowing nothing about Ted Binion it has to be said that Matthew Modine comes across as seriously over the top when it comes to being loud and brash, yet delivers a surprisingly effective performance of Ted suffering from paranoia. It's the same with Mena Suvari as Sandy Murphy as the whole look seems to be too false, too over the top yet as the storyline grows she seems to grow into this character of a woman accused of murder, whose life crumbles in front of her eyes. Plus whilst it shouldn't really be a talking point Suvari's pole dancing scene is surprisingly sexy catching you completely by surprise. As for the rest of the cast well solid but forgettable is how Johnathon Schaech and Marcia Gay Harden end up.
What is a pleasant surprise is that for a TV movie "Sex and Lies in Sin City" does not look like the hastily cobbled together production you might expect. The locations look right, the camera work is sharp and snappy and director Peter Medak creates the right atmosphere of intrigue, causing us to question motives and characters as their relationships reveal themselves. As such "Sex and Lies in Sin City" is a pleasant surprise and whilst it has issues it will make you reassess how you feel about TV movies.
What this all boils down to is that "Sex and Lies in Sin City" is a very interesting movie especially if like me the name Ted Binion and his murder means nothing. It does spend the majority of it's time going over the facts and recreating back story so that we can understand the various relationships but it makes it easy to follow. If only it had then spent a little bit more time on its theory as to what happened it would have ended up more than just average.