Clunky screenplay aside, the film is serviceable but ultimately becomes a tired retread.
The mob drama may be played out, but that doesn’t stop writer/director Joe Basile from taking a crack at the all too familiar genre. West End takes place in New Jersey, a fact the film repeatedly likes to mention throughout. Vic Trevi (Neal Bledsoe) returns home after his father Victor (Eric Roberts), a mobster out of jail after getting busted for racketeering, gets brutally gunned down in a mob hit. Vic’s father went to jail when he was a kid, leaving his Uncle John (Peter Onorati) to take care of him and his mother Mary (Isabella Hofmann). Once Vic got old enough, he left his family behind to become a lawyer in Florida, never speaking to them again until now. Needless to say the family reunion is an awkward one.
It doesn’t take long before Vic gets offered to work with the family business. Vic accepts, and in no time he’s getting his hands dirty when Uncle John starts killing any men involved with Victor’s death. To make matters more complicated, Vic isn’t actually there to mourn his father; he’s an undercover FBI agent, sent by his superiors to bust his family’s operation. Will Vic succeed in taking down his family? Will he get found out and pay the ultimate price? Will he choose family over justice? Your first guesses to these questions are probably on the money.
West End isn’t the sort of film trying to subvert expectations or defy clichés. It plays into the tropes of the mob drama with ease, and more or less plays out exactly as expected. That familiarity actually helps West End at some points. It’s somewhat admirable to see Basile, who used his own funds along with local New Jersey businesses to pay for the production, pull off such a straight-laced mob movie. Of course, that kind of straightforward approach also hurts the film. Its plot sounds like it came out of a Grand Theft Auto sequel, with plenty of sequences feeling like live-action cut scenes.
That level of artificiality mostly comes from Basile’s script, filled with the sort of expository conversations only seen in the movies. Buddy (Joe Nieves), a childhood friend of Vic’s, is first seen offering condolences to Mary. “He loved you like his own,” she says, and Buddy replies with “One of the perks of being friends with your son.” Later on, Buddy tells Vic about his wife Lauren (Melissa Archer). “She was your high school sweetheart, you left, we fell in love, now here we are.” These kinds of hilariously awkward attempts to fill in backstory continue throughout the film. When Mary repeatedly tells Vic she’s his mother, it’s hard to tell if it’s a term of affection or if Basile is reminding viewers of Mary’s relationship to the protagonist.
Clunky screenplay aside, West End is serviceable enough. The Jersey locations add plenty of character to the feature, along with Clayton Combe and Timothy Naylor’s cinematography. Bledsoe and the cast do a pretty good job as well, giving their roles enough of a natural quality to not make them feel like complete archetypes. But these kinds of qualities can only go so far, and ultimately don’t save West End from becoming a tired retread.