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Written & Directed by Patrick Hughes
Produced by
Hughes & Al Clark
Released by Magnet Releasing
Australia. 96 min. Rated R
Ryan Kwanten, Steve Bisley, Tom E. Lewis, Claire van der Boom, Christopher Davis & Kevin Harrington

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. Its awhile until you know that this is a contemporary tale of elemental emotionsuntil 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 cant even find his gun to take to his first day of work as a constable, not that hes so comfortable around gunsa shooting incident haunts him from his past police work. Hes 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 departments 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 Eastwoods Unforgiven (1992), Old Bill at first isnt as snarly a villain as Gene Hackmans Little Bill. (Theres 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, hes frequently seen against the full moon and silhouetted against a threatening sky. Even with bodies strewn around the town, hes more than the bloody vengeance machine of Robert Rodriguezs Machete, though Hughes cites the gorier Rodriguez as an influence.

Shanes close calls with Conway first play on Kwantens more familiar image as the bumbling hunk in HBOs True BloodShane 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 clich conclusions that are averted in surprising ways and add depth to the characters, particularly when Conways 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
November 5, 2010



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