The western is such an American genre. There are other countries who’ve done them, of course (Japan’s Sukiyaki Western Django might be the most obvious example) but it’s still not something you necessarily see every day. So when I heard about a modern Australian western called Red Hill starring none other than everybody’s favorite True Blood eye candy Ryan Kwanten, I was pretty excited.
Sadly, it wasn’t nearly as good as I had hoped.
So, here’s your basic plot synopsis: policeman Shane Cooper (Kwanten) and his pregnant wife move to this little country town called Red Hill because Preggers miscarried her last baby and has been advised to go somewhere tranquil for the duration of this one. Too bad this pesky convicted murderer named Jimmy Conway chooses Cooper’s first day of work to bust out of jail and come gunning for Red Hill.
Tranquil, it’s fucking not.
1. First, Shane Cooper’s just a great name for a western hero, isn’t it? I think so. Poor Shane. He’s about to have a Jack Bauer kind of day.
Sorry, buddy. Life’s rough.
2. Now, Ryan Kwanten as Shane . . . overall, I like him. The acting in this film isn’t really noteworthy one way or the other (with a couple of exceptions) but I thought Kwanten’s performance was nice, subtle, nothing too flashy or over-the-top. Anyway, it’s definitely different than True Blood or Dead Silence, for that matter. (Dudes, Dead Silence is a ventriloquist horror movie, and while most of the film sucks pretty hardcore, the ending is kind of ridiculously fun. I think it might be worth a mock-and-watch if you ever see it on SyFy sometime.)
And since Red Hill‘s an Australian movie, Kwanten gets to use the super sexy accent that God intended him to speak with. I heartily approve! (Please let this happen for Simon Baker; please let this happen for Simon Baker . . .)
3.) As far as the rest of the cast goes . . . like I said, mostly eh. The only two people really worth discussing in any detail are Old Bill, our not-so-friendly Sheriff, and Jimmy, our mostly-mute murderer. Let’s take Old Bill first. I’ll talk about Jimmy in a little bit—he definitely gets his own note—but Bill, (Steve Bisley) the curmudgeonly small-town Sheriff who has no use for city boys, is pretty enjoyable . . . at least, in the first forty-five minutes or so of the film. Once the action really starts happening, though, Old Bill’s role is significantly reduced, and Bisley doesn’t have much to do but yell into a walkie talkie and, occasionally, pose with a gun. Old Bill really does love to pose, though.
He stands like this at least three times in the movie.
4.) One of my biggest problems with Red Hill has to do with balance. The first half of the film is quiet, subdued—not slow, exactly, just building to something in its own pace. I liked the first half of Red Hill; it didn’t seem like it was trying too hard. The second half, though . . . something goes wrong in that second half.
On one hand, the action and gore make for a fun movie and an easy film to watch. Clearly, I approve of gore: before the film began, the rated R warning popped up with an advisory for “strong bloody violence”—and not just strong violence, mind you, but strong BLOODY violence. My initial reaction? Exceeeeeellent.
But the violence in Red Hill is campy, over-the-top—nothing I mind normally, but it feels at odds with the first half of the film. Part of the problem, I think is how massively unrealistic some of the action is. In one scene, Jimmy takes out a sniper gunning for him because a helpful flash of lightning reveals the dude’s reflection in a store glass window. He literally spins around and shoots, I don’t know, maybe five, six hundred feet in the air, from street level to the roof where the sniper’s perched, killing him instantly. And did I mention that Jimmy’s using a handgun? Please. And then there’s another guy who fails to kill Jimmy from three feet away. Mind you, Jimmy isn’t moving, isn’t even aiming his gun. He’s just standing there, facing Useless Bastard, and Useless Bastard empties his entire clip and somehow misses every shot. It’s so ridiculous that I actually didn’t realize that he had missed . . . I thought Jimmy was wearing a bulletproof vest, and that he apparently was just too badass to be moved by the force of the bullets. (Which, admittedly, is also ridiculous, but it seemed like the more viable option of the two.) But no, Useless Bastard just missed every shot. Ugh.
Action sequences this cheesy don’t belong in a movie like Red Hill. They’re wink wink, nudge nudge scenes . . . this is the kind of thing that I’d expect from a film like Machete (which I still haven’t watched yet and will have to correct as soon as humanely possible. Well, sometime in the next two months, anyway.) Red Hill is self-aware, certainly, and paying homages to all kinds of western and action films—but I don’t think it’s supposed to be cheesy. Not intentionally, anyway.
5. The other thing that falls apart in the second half is characterization. People who have at least fledglings of personalities in the beginning quickly become red shirts or cliches in the second half, often with very minimal dialogue and no chance to do much of anything but run down a street or hunker behind a table. Shane is really the only character who’s given much to do, and even he isn’t as fleshed out as you might imagine, you know, considering that he’s the protagonist and all.
6. Of course, what could really help tie this movie together is a kick-ass antagonist, someone who’s either snarky and funny and awesome, or maybe someone who’s just so unspeakably badass that he doesn’t even have to talk. Red Hill tries to go in the latter direction . . . and fails kind of miserably. The guy who plays Jimmy, Tommy Lewis . . . well, he does what he has to do: he stalks around and kills people, but . . . he has no personality, no charisma . . . this man’s face never moves; he just walks around shooting people. The man barely blinks, and not in a I’m-too-badass-to-blink sort of way, rather a blinking-might-actually-constitute-acting sort of way.
Admittedly, Jimmy Conway is a pretty generic character, and it can be hard to work a role when you have almost no dialogue at all, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, either.
In the inevitable remake, I demand one of these two replacement actors for the role:
Josh Brolin (For the Serious Remake)
Or Danny Trejo (For The Campy Remake)
7. On the upside, there’s some awesome looking cinematography in Red Hill. This film, particularly the second half, is highly stylized, and while some people seem to think of “stylized” as a four letter word, I don’t usually have much problem seeing the director or writer’s influence in the film (particularly the writer’s). There are a number of truly neat looking shots in this movie . . . they just aren’t subtle, and they don’t match with the tone in the first half of the film.
8. It’s not a serious complaint or anything, but for as much action and violence as there is, there aren’t any really good battle sequences. Nobody puts up much of a fight. If they did, it might make the film a little more dark and edgy instead of pure pulp.
9. A more serious complaint: not everything is how it seems to Shane in the beginning of the film, but if you’ve ever seen a movie, you know, ever . . . then you know how this film is going to turn out. It doesn’t exactly take a whole lot of deduction—the “hint” you need is on the fucking movie poster. That being said, Red Hill plays out like it has some big twist . . . it even shows you the reveal, as if it’s not pretty obvious an hour in on what’s going on. If there’s going to be a twist, make it a good one. If there isn’t, don’t have your hero seem shocked to figure out what’s really happened ten minutes before the film ends.
10. Hey, here’s a scenario:
Good Guy and Bad Guy are pointing guns at one another. They’re out in the middle of nowhere. Back-up isn’t coming. There are some elderly hostages nearby, but their lives aren’t in immediate danger because no one’s pointing a gun at them. What does Good Guy do? He decides to negotiate with Bad Guy by slowly putting his gun and radio down on the ground and trying to reason with the Bad Guy.
Now, I don’t know proper police procedure, so any cops reading this blog may feel free to correct me, but this seems like the kind of situation where you negotiate with your gun firmly in fucking hand.
11. Notice that I haven’t mentioned Preggers since the beginning of this review? Or, for that matter, her character’s real name? Yes, that’s about how important she is. Girl power!
12. Finally . . . there’s a small side plot here that I won’t spoil for those of you who haven’t seen it, but . . . in a well-made movie, it could be this kind of magical piece of absurdity that’s just inexplicably awesome.
Here? It’s just another WTF moment.
Conclusion: Despite how much I’ve complained about it, Red Hill is a pretty entertaining watch, and it moves quickly enough so that you don’t want to kill yourself out of boredom or anything. But the film is trying to be two different movies at once, and if it could have worked out its little identity crisis, it could have been a much better film.
Moral: All you need for a happy ending? The ability to pull the trigger. (Yes, my friends. This is yet another movie where the hero learns to kill again. I’ve got to make that list.)