The Australian outback is at once beautiful and foreboding. With its seemingly boundless flatlands, big skies, and mountainous vistas, it’s still every as vast and mysterious as it was when the continent was first settled. In cinema, it becomes a character in and of itself; a place where secrets bring communities together and tear them apart, where the law is open to interpretation and the men who violate it are usually no worse than those sworn to uphold it. It’s these characteristics that make the outback such a mysterious and dangerous place, and a perfect setting for the revisionist western, Red Hill.
Police officer, Shane Cooper, (True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten) and his expectant wife, Alice (Claire van der Boom), relocate to the tiny, remote town of Red Hill so that Alice, who’d previously suffered a miscarriage in her sixth month, can have some peace and quiet during the later months of this pregnancy. For Shane it’s a lot to get used to, as Red Hill is a far cry from the big city, with a population barely over a hundred, and where the biggest threat to public safety are the critters roaming around in the hills. Or so it would seem.
Upon introducing himself to his fellow officers and his crusty superior, “Old Bill” (Steve Bisley), Shane is sent off on a fool’s errand to check on dead livestock at a farm on the outskirts of town. Upon his return, Shane discovers the police station packed with locals gathering arms and ammunition. It seems that convicted murderer and former Red Hill resident, Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis), has escaped from prison, and Old Bill is deadly certain that the aboriginal tracker is making his way back home.
He assigns each member of his posse a road to cover, giving Shane what Bill thinks is Jimmy’s least likely route and, well, suffice it to say that, a short time later, Shane finds himself staring down the barrel at the badly scarred convict when he pulls over a vehicle Jimmy’s hijacked to take him into town. Just as Shane thinks his number’s up, he stumbles into a ravine, and Jimmy pushes Shane’s vehicle down the hill after him. Battered and bruised, Shane makes the long trek back to town where he discovers that Jimmy’s already taken out a sizeable chunk of Old Bill’s posse. As Shane attempts to find the others at the rendezvous point, he once again runs into Jimmy, but, instead of killing him, Jimmy stuffs him in the trunk of a car and drives him to the outskirts of town, leaving him (mostly) unharmed. It soon becomes apparent that Jimmy Conway may not be the monster Shane’s been led to believe, and, as he begins to uncover the secret that the men of Red Hill have kept under wraps for more than a decade, Shane realizes that Jimmy may be the least of his problems.
Contemporary setting be damned, Red Hill is a western shoot-em-up through and through. Sure, there are cars and television sets and the like, but this flick oozes Aussie western cool (ala the excellent The Proposition), with a novel “villain” in the aboriginal Jimmy who, whilst riding horseback in his cowboy hat, duster, and bandolier, looks like he’s trotted in from a Leone film. It’s a great looking movie, with lots of sweeping vistas and gorgeous photography, and first time director, Patrick Hughes, lords over the proceedings with the steady hand and mature sensibilities of a seasoned pro. Kwanten, already a star stateside thanks to his…err…revealing role on HBO’s steamy vampire soap, True Blood, is in top form, here, complemented by a convincingly grizzled Bisley (Goose from Mad Max!) and Tommy Lewis, who does an admirable job in a virtually silent role as the tragic Jimmy. It’s a shame that the film’s plot is something of a rehash of countless revenge-themed films before it – so much so that Red Hill’s big “twist” can be seen coming for miles. That being said, it’s still a very entertaining and nicely crafted piece of western pulp, and that alone makes it more than worth a watch.
The Blu-ray from Sony features a gorgeous 2.40:1 transfer that’s rich and vibrant and teeming with fine details. There’s a hint of fine grain throughout, but that’s in keeping with the film’s gritty tone. Blacks were consistent for the most part, but, in the final third, I did notice a few compression artifacts. The 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track is wonderfully mixed, with nice use of surrounds and directional effects, and deep, satisfying bass, especially evident in the percussive sound of gunfire, and the dull thud of bullets hitting flesh.
Sadly, Sony only included a collection of trailers for other Sony releases, but here’s to hoping we get some other goodies via the included BD-Live Connectivity.
Red Hill may be a little short on new ideas, but the old ones are executed near-flawlessly, bolstered by ample action, excellent cinematography, and a trio of fine performances. It’s at once brutal and beautiful stuff, and an easy recommendation for fans of dark westerns, violent revenge flicks, and just good old fashioned shoot-em-ups in general.