Let me set the scene for you. Majestic Australia. True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten. Modern Western. Revenge. If you’ve become slightly aroused or entirely interested in Red Hill, no one’s blaming you. In fact, I’m right there with you, which is why I slipped myself into a screening of writer/director Patrick Hughes’ debut feature as soon as possible.
In Red Hill, Ryan Kwanten stars as Shane Cooper, a young police constable who moves to the small town of Red Hill, Australia, with his wife, looking for peace and quiet. What he finds is a surly police Captain in “Old Bill,” a no non-sense law enforcer and town patriarch who doesn’t take a shine to the fresh faced Cooper. After a slow moving morning that involves horses and a potential panther attack, the sleepy town wakes up in a panic when former resident bad boy and convicted murderer Jimmy Conway escapes prison and sets his sights on vengeance.
Based on the bad ass poster or some early rumblings or name drops of Mad Max, you might walk into this film thinking you’re going into an action film- if that’s the case, you’ll find a different type of film, but still a pretty good one. Red Hill starts off somewhat slowly, but enjoyably, in establishing the slow pace of town life, Cooper’s personality, and the emotional reasons for the move out of the city.
There really isn’t much in the film that you haven’t seen before: Cooper is a cop who couldn’t fire his weapon at a young criminal, he hesitates to use his weapon, and there’s more to this sleepy town than is first suspected. That said, there’s nothing wrong with taking a familiar ride through the cinema. The film’s small budget and quick shooting schedule are boosted by the beautiful, sprawling landscape of Australia, which director Patrick Hughes takes full advantage of. There’s one nice scene where Cooper tears over a hill in the pouring rain on a horse, merging the old West themes into the modern day plotting.
Kwanten proves in this film that he’s got an emotional range and diversity True Blood fans are probably unaware of. Cooper couldn’t be further away from the loud, boyish Jason Stackhouse, and Kwanten makes him infinitely likable and his performance of certain key scenes really elevate the character to an admirable one.
Despite his great performance, Kwanten doesn’t manage to own the show- the virtually silent Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis) brings a quiet and violent brooding that is comparable to No Country for Old Men’s Anton Chigurh. Throughout the course of the film we actually spend a lot of time with Conway as he works his way through all those of wronged him with a shotgun and a pair of pistols. While it does take a bit to get there and it slows at time, once Jimmy sets upon his path of death and destruction, he coldly and stoically doles out death without hesitation and the blood flows readily across the screen.
Red Hill is a small film with shades of No Country that works on the performances of Kwanten and Lewis. While not groundbreaking, it’s a decent watch with a few moments of greatness that I enjoyed. In a conversation I had with writer/director Hughes and star Kwanten, they described the film as sort of “the prequel to every Clint Eastwood Western ever made.” If you think of the film like that- a prequel and a introduction to a meek character who turns into a badass- it makes perfect sense.