15 May 2011
Red Hill is an imitative Western from Australia (perhaps it should be called Antipodean?). The Morricone-like arpeggios fill the soundtrack, while shots of a lone rider in pale moonlight are used in many a transition shot. There is also an umnistakable Coen-esque feel to it, especially that of No Country for Old Men.
Yet, despite all these deliberate attempts at creating a genre movie that we have all been accustomed to, Red Hill is a taut thriller, with no plot thread left dangling. Its protagonist appears to be absent from the main action through a good chunk of the middle, but that’s just a minor quibble in an otherwise (dare I say it?) great film.
Ryan Kwanten is Shane Cooper, the young city constable just transferred to Red Hill - an out-of-the-way, literally one-horse town that time forgot in Eastern Australian Highlands. The reasons for his transfer soon reveals itself - his pregnant wife was ordered by doctors to leave the big city to avoid another miscarriage. On his first day of duty, Shane finds himself at odds with the local inspector William Jones (a sinister performance by the veteran Steve Bisley, who chews and steals every scene he is in). When Shane reveals that he failed to fire his gun on duty once, Jones knows he has a vanilla in his hand.
Shane’s first day gets worse when a convict escapes from a nearby prison and is on his way to Red Hill to settle some scores. Why is he coming back here? And why does Jones, the rest of the puny police force and a few locals are, well, shitting themselves about it.
The reason for their fear soon becomes clear. The convict in question is Jimmy Conway - straight out of hell, face half burned, mute, and does one thing better than anyone else. Kill, kill, kill. Tommy Lewis plays Jimmy with such malevolence that he sure is one of the more formidable monsters in recent memory.
Jimmy’s singular aim at killing his way through Red Hill and Shane’s seemingly futile attempts at peacefully resolving the situation carries the film to a finale that feels slightly heavy-handed, but Patrick Hughes (who wrote, produced and directed the film) manages to keep the audience’s attention on full-alert from the quiet, sunny beginnings, until the mystical, mythical ending.
The whole film takes place over 24 hours and has great gunfights, an incredibly tense moment that involves a corpse, a man handcuffed to a metal railing, a barn and a panther. Quite possibly the best thriller of the year so far.