Red Hill, a new Australian thriller, forcibly reminded me of No Country for Old Men. A lone gunman busts out of prison and stalks his way back to the town where he was arrested intent on getting his long-awaited revenge. It’s like a stripped-down Eastwood picture; there’s crime, there’s killing, and in the end everyone gets their due.
The weird part about this film is that it stars Ryan Kwanten, best known for his role as Jason Stackhouse on HBO’s True Blood. His character in that show is certainly plucky and daring, but not exactly the brightest crayon in the box. In Red Hill his character, Shane Cooper, resembles Jason in many ways: he seems to be perpetually out of the loop, always in danger but never quite sure why. However, in this film there’s a good reason for that. It’s Shane’s first day as a policeman in the rural town of Red Hill, in the outback, and without knowing it he’s stepped into a whole world of trouble.
Shane’s boss, Old Bill (Steve Bisley), sounds the alarm when he realizes murder convict Jimmy (Tommy Lewis) has escaped from prison; there’s only one place he’ll go, Bill tells the motley militia gathered in the police station, and that’s here. Soon everyone is armed to the teeth and awaiting the arrival of this archetypal nemesis. Naturally, not everything goes as planned, and as Shane tries to work out how to stop Jimmy’s killing spree, he discovers there’s more to the story than he’s been told. Though Kwanten isn’t forced out of familiar territory here, his performance is compelling enough to carry the film, and it’s terribly fun to hear him yelling in his native Australian accent.
Red Hill is the first feature from fellow Aussie writer/director Patrick Hughes, and there’s no denying it’s a promising start to his big-budget career. The cinematography is brilliant, though one could argue that Hughes’ chosen setting is so picturesque that all you’d have to do is point a camera at it for it to look great. Still, the film fulfills everything it sets out to do: the script zips along so fast that the ninety five-minute run time feels more like seventy-five and even though the resolution is a little predictable and ham-handed, it doesn’t feel totally out of place.
Several blogs have described Red Hill as a “neo-Western,” and though no one has actually explained what this term is supposed to mean (are all Westerns made after Ford’s time neo-Westerns?) I agree with it. These days, we’re so used to films being clouded by things like emotion and character development—it’s refreshing, in an odd way, to be immersed in a film in which the players are as developed as they’re going to get and the only thing left to be resolved is who’s going to live to see the end of the picture.