A Kafkaesque, noir-ish, morality-tale -- if ever there was one: a drifter, down on his luck, enters a small town and is mistaken for a hit man. Rather than set the record straight he accepts cash for the job; warns his intended victim – the gorgeous wife of his new employer -- and then he tries to skip town with the dough. But you don’t leave Red Rock until Red Rock leaves you...
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Red Rock West is one of those small films with big talent that gives ‘Indie’ a good name and keeps Hollywood honest – as much as that is possible.
Michael’s (Cage) an honest guy, looking for work on the oil rigs in Wyoming – but he has a bum leg and he’s broke and he lands in Red Rock. He walks into a bar and orders a cup of coffee. Wayne (J.T. Walsh) looks him over, notices his Texas plates, and asks him where he’s been – he is Lyle from Dallas and is here for the job? Michael nods. Wayne takes him into his office and hands him $5000; he explains how the hit should be conducted and gives him a photo of his wife, Suzanne (the lovely Lara Flynn Boyle).
It seems like quick work – Mike follows Suzanne from a distance, watches her rendezvous with a young stud at a trailer, and then confronts her in her ranch house. He tells her about the plot and to his surprise she offers to double the money if he’ll pop her husband. He takes the cash and heads out of town with a grin. Suddenly a man appears in the road and Mike strikes him with his car. It’s the stud from the trailer and he’s still alive. Mike gets him to the hospital back in Red Rock. Mike can’t leave until he makes a statement to police, the doc says. And they’ll want to know about the two slugs in the guys’ stomach. The chief of police walks in – it’s Wayne.
Wayne takes Mike out into the country night for a stroll – there is a struggle and a chase and gunfire and Mike gets away. He tumbles over a ridge and onto a highway – a Cadillac skids to a stop – out pops Lyle from Dallas (Dennis Hopper). He offers to drive Mike to his car. They drive back to Red Rock and Lyle insists he buy his new buddy a beer in Wayne’s bar and there it dawns on Mike who this guy is – the hitman. He goes through the can window just as Wayne meets Lyle and the chase is on. Mike clambers to the roof of the bar – jumps onto the hood of a cube van and steals a ride out of town.
But he can’t help himself and stops at Susanne’s’ to warn her about Lyle. They wait and sure enough Lyle arrives on cue – they surprise him and knock him cold and then drive out of town. The next morning they wake at a motel and talk about eloping to Mexico – sure would be nice to have some of Wayne’s money. Suzanne knows just where he keeps it – locked in a safe in his office – lots of money. Lots of money and Suzanne and Mexico and that’s all it takes – Mike is back in Red Rock and wishing he’d never been born. It goes on like this until the bitter end when Michael stops taking the bait and frees himself from Red Rock.
We have four heavy duty all-star principals here – Cage; Walsh; Hopper and Boyle – any one of them can light up the screen – its great fun to watch them. It’s a beautiful film to look at – cinematographer Marc Reshovsky. The locations in Montana and Arizona have such a rich feel to them in the gold red light of magic hour that we feel cheated when, for whatever reason – the weather, a budget – that light is missing.
When they were dishing out talent Dwight Yoakam took a heaping plateful and went back for seconds. He is outstanding as the murderous thug in ‘Panic Room’. Here he plays a truck driver with a short fuse and a big gun; and as one of country music’s finest talents he contributes a beautiful tune to the closing credits.
Red Rock sags briefly in the latter stages of the second act – we cut away from our stars and there is a scene or two that could have been tightened or cut; we want to ratchet up the stakes somehow and the script, which has been admirable until this point – written by John and Rick Dahl -- suddenly finds itself in a sheriff’s office, the least interesting set in the film. Not to worry – it isn’t long before our madman Lyle has bundled everyone into a black Buick and plotted a course for the big money, pay off in a grave yard.
This film put John Dahl on the map. He has a talent for the small canvas, tracing out the complicated interior lives of his characters; but that doesn’t always translate to box office. He made ‘The Last Seduction’ and a few more films after this; lately he’s been working on some of the better television series – Dexter; Breaking Bad; Californication. And who can blame him, when the ‘Indie’ film market hovers between comatose and flatline? I have a feeling Dahl wouldn’t know a Transformer if it bit him in the ass – as for the soap operatic puff that passes for depth on the big screen now days – probably doesn’t interest him. He’ll want solid work with good material and talented people: today that often means small screen, or bust.