Foreign & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video ">
Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video
A young policeman exiled from the city to a rural town loaded with secrets and dominated by a gruff old sheriff is a familiar story. In Red Hill, writer/director Patrick Hughes spins new suspense with a stunning setting, compelling characters, and post-colonial guilt. It’s awhile until you know that this is a contemporary tale of elemental emotions—until you see a car amidst the brumbies (wild horses) in the misty mountains of southern Australia.
Newcomers Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten) and his very pregnant wife Alice (Claire van der Boom) are still unpacking boxes after their move from the city. He can’t even find his gun to take to his first day of work as a constable, not that he’s so comfortable around guns—a shooting incident haunts him from his past police work. He’s so modern he leaves the car for his wife and walks a ways to work. After the news breaks of the explosive prison escape of notorious aborigine tracker and killer Jimmy Conway (Tom E. Lewis), Shane has to resort to riding the police department’s horse to find his new boss. At a town meeting, tough Old Bill (Steve Bisley) is giving a rousing speech to the citizens of the town of Red Hill about resisting the federal takeover of the grazing lands for a national reserve. He barely has time to grill Shane before he has to organize the menfolk into an armed posse to protect the town. While this contemporary Western shares some of the post-modern Western sensibility of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992), Old Bill at first isn’t as snarly a villain as Gene Hackman’s Little Bill. (There’s also a storm on the way and rumors of a panther on the loose.)
Conway is out for revenge, targeting townsmen to die slowly and painfully. He is one scary hombre, with a scarred face, keen tracking skills, an implacable stance, and deadly aim, whether with shotguns or boomerangs. As night falls, he’s frequently seen against the full moon and silhouetted against a threatening sky. Even with bodies strewn around the town, he’s more than the bloody vengeance machine of Robert Rodriguez’s Machete, though Hughes cites the gorier Rodriguez as an influence.
Shane’s close calls with Conway
first play on Kwanten’s more familiar image as the bumbling hunk in
HBO’s True Blood—Shane
studies a baby name book while on the stake-out and then accidentally
saves his neck by stumbling. But Hughes also cleverly teases the
audience to leap to cliché conclusions that are averted in surprising
ways and add depth to the characters, particularly
when Conway’s past is eventually seen in disturbing confessional
flashbacks. The cinematography by Tim
Hudson and the score by Dmitri Golovko beautifully help build the tense
mood. Hudson makes full use of the dramatic landscape, red dust,
lightning, and the horizon, while Golovko gives each character his own
melodic and percussive leitmotif.
This once upon a time in South Australia is an
accomplished debut thriller.
Nora Lee Mandel