John Dahl’s Red Rock West

Ever drive past a dusty one horse town on the edge of some forgotten interstate in the middle of nowhere and wonder what kind of crazy shit the shady locals get up to with too much time on their hands? So does John Dahl and his terrific neo-noir/Western hybrid Red Rock West is a diabolical good time at the movies. It’s one of those deliciously twisted narratives where everyone is out to kill each other, they all are angling for the Money McGuffin buried somewhere out there (in this case a graveyard) and everyone is a deeeitful, sociopathic piece of work. This differs from other such similar noirs out there because Nicolas Cage’s forlorn, weather beaten protagonist is a fundamentally decent guy, a righteous dude who has a terrible case of ‘wrong place wrong time’ syndrome. After meandering around looking for work to no avail he wanders into the town of Red Rock and more specifically into the local bar owned by Wayne (J.T. Walsh), a man who looks perpetually suspicious and nervous at the same time. Wayne has called in a contract killer from Dallas to murder his wife (Lara Flynn Boyle) and inadvertently assumes that Cage is the guy before, you know, checking his ID or something but in a town that sees like one drifter or newcomer a year we can forgive his oversight. Cage becomes hopelessly embroiled with Wayne, his wife, the rest of the local police force and even the actual hitman who shows up a week late like a tornado in the form of Dennis Hopper, having a scene stealing blast in Frank Booth Lite mode. There’s double crosses, murders, hidden identities, shootouts, sexy seductions and all manner of naughty fun as only a noir can provide, given low key yet somehow terrifically pithy verve by Dahl and his wonderful quartet of actors who are all clearly having a party. Cage smoulders yet ultimately is a force of conscience and reason amongst such wanton bad behaviour, Boyle does the same slinky, sly sexpot thing she’s done in other hard boiled flicks, Walsh was just so damn good at playing contemptible scumbags and Hopper is off the chain as ‘Lyle from Dallas.’ I enjoyed how he and Cage are two of the many, many US veterans scattered to the wind following any given war, left to their own devices and somewhat abandoned by the system, and they both have tread very different paths that have somehow led them into each other’s orbit once more. Cage is decent, low profile and hard working, Hopper is a rowdy, morally bankrupt assassin and it’s quite fascinating to see the two clash royally. If you like your short, sweet and offbeat, this is the ticket, one of the most fun crime films the 90’s has to offer.

-Nate Hill

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