A trigger-unhappy lawman realizes both his macho potential and his moral mettle while pursuing a vengeful killer with a dark backstory across a rugged landscape beneath a Gothic sky — among other ingredients from the cupboard — in “Red Hill.”
Clearly, originality and profundity do not figure into this Australian Western and police-suspense film. Still, first-time feature-filmmaker Patrick Hughes delivers impressively unsentimental drama and numerous genre pleasures in this mixture of art house and grind house.
Hughes, who has cited Robert Rodriguez and the Coen brothers as influences, sets this tale of injustice, revenge, brutality and humanity in a modern-day Australian cowboy town where cars are big and monikers clearly come from a screenwriter.
Ryan Kwanten (“True Blood”) plays newly arrived constable Shane Cooper. Recovering from an incident in which he could not bring himself to fire his gun, Shane has transferred to Red Hill from the big city with his pregnant wife, Alice (Claire van der Boom), in hopes of keeping both of their stress levels down.
Hell prevails, naturally, during Shane’s first day on the job, when, among other trials, Jimmy Conway (Tom E. Lewis) — a violent convict with a scarred face and a giant grudge — escapes from prison.
Old Bill (Steve Bisley), Shane’s Wild West-style boss, organizes a shoot-to-kill posse to catch Jimmy, while Jimmy embarks on a vicious payback quest against the cops who jailed him.
Shane discovers horrible secrets that explain Jimmy’s wrath. To preserve his skin and his overall decency, Shane must take matters into his own hands.
Good Westerns generally involve vast open landscapes that are electric with current created by moral conflicts of an interior, as well as a gun-smokey, kind — and Hughes fares so-so in presenting such dynamics resonantly.
Unlike the Coens — who have splendid fun with genres while also capturing, sometimes with grisly aplomb and incisive depth, the baseness of humankind — Hughes presents brutality at only the surface level and seems to be asking viewers to take his dime-store story seriously.
Also problematic is Jimmy. He is not interesting enough, as cold-hearted killers go, to merit so much screen time.
Yet Hughes indeed, a la Rodriguez, displays a flair for the visceral, and his mixology skills prove more efficient still. Shootouts, a boomerang attack, domestic bliss, a bad rock song, colonial mentalities, aborigine-rights issues, Coen-esque deadpan, extreme weather and a wayward panther are a few of the elements that, save for the cat, he combines efficiently.
Also, Hughes builds suspense capably, wisely limits the plot twists to one and draws a strong central performance from Kwanten.
Sum total: a vibrantly multitoned, colorfully unfolding, boldly harsh big-screen adventure that is worth the ride.
Starring Ryan Kwanten, Steve Bisley, Tom E. Lewis, Claire van der Boom
Written and directed by Patrick Hughes
Running time 1 hour 36 minutes