The Underrated: Red Rock West

Whatever happened to John Dahl? Seriously? The Last Seduction is a fine film, Rounders is OK, despite Matt Damon, but he’s been relegated to making bad TV. I don’t get it. These films can’t have been expensive to make, and I seem to remember The Last Seduction being something of a hit, so why the boycott? Anyhow, before The Last Seduction made Linda Fiorentino famous for a truly boner inducing turn as the definitive femme-fatale of the 90’s (Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct had nothing compared) Dahl made Red Rock West: proof positive that the hairpiece can act when he puts his mind to it, Dennis Hopper does a great psycho, Lara Flynn Boyle was hot, JT Walsh underrated,  and that noir wasn’t dead.

Why has nobody seen this film? Seriously- it strikes me as completely unfair that decades worth of Esterhazs garbage still gets watched, whereas there were people at the time making proper, non-predictable and non-cretinous noir that now gets completely ignored. The Last Seduction was fucking seminal, for god’s sake, and yet most haven’t even heard of it, and Red Rock West is almost as good as that. It is a lost classic, a film that truly hasn’t aged and one that will, if there’s any justice at all, be rediscovered in time as a masterpiece.

This review will be deliberately vague as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone that hasn’t seen it, so a lot of this review is basically “take my word for it”- and unlike the characters, I’ve got no hidden agenda. Trust me.

The Hairpiece stars as Mike, a slightly dim down and out ex-marine with a bad knee and no luck aside from bad luck. Through a series of unfortunate events he comes to the town of Red Rock, where he’s mistaken by Wayne (local barman and Sherrif) for “Lyle from Texas” and hired to kill Wayne’s wife. From there the plot twists around, but nobody, aside from Mike himself (and brilliantly, Lyle) are who they appear to be. The film culminates in the forseeable showdown, before ending on a real note of justice- something that’s all too rare nowadays.

The acting in this film is simply superb. Lara Flynn Boyle smoulders as Suzanne- an epic performance in an otherwise mediocre career. It’s very, very easy to see why nice but dim Mike gets completely deceived by her. J.T Walsh is on fine form as the sleazy duplicitous Wayne and The Hairpiece has never been better than he is in this. His turn as Mike is fine, whether he’s simmering with impotent anger, or pitifully prepping himself for a job interview, he’s never less than completely convincing. Dennis Hopper as Lyle plays the psycho well (but in all honesty that’s a role Hopper could play in his sleep) alternating between good ol’ boy charm and psychotic rage.

The script and direction are great. This is a film steeped in atmosphere- there’s a sense of desperation and deprivation to Red Rock West that seeps off the screen, while every character gets their share of great lines (I particularly like Lyle’s “I knew a guy like you once” speech). Although the plot may contain more twists than a corkscrew, it’s never confusing and although the main characters may be in the business of deception, the audience is more than willing to be deceived. This is a pearler of a script. In terms of shot composition, this film is stunning to look at. There’s a lot of panoramic shots, and everything is lit in a soft focus that is somewhat lulling. It’s deliberately not sharp, as if Dahl was trying to create an atmosphere of obscurity to complement the material.

If there’s one genre that Red Rock West falls into then it’s noir. This film is classic noir. There’s a femme fatale, a quest for buried cash, people lie, deceive, and cheat and the protagonist (I would say hero, but he really isn’ t heroic) lands himself in trouble through a series of terrible decisions. I like noir, and this modern psuedo-western take on it has a really pleasant noirish film. It would be very easy to see Bogart in the lead and the film in black and white.

It’s also exciting, and I find myself rooting for Mike (even when he’s making terrible decisions). There are several sequences in it that are absolutely gripping when things look like they are genuinely going to go completely tits up for the main characters. I love the scene in Wayne’s office in particular, when almost all deceptions are revealed, and Mike and Suzanne are on the brink of being discovered by Wayne and Lyle. I also like the jailbreak sequence- Hopper at his finest.

Then there’s the ending. Although the showdown is both predictable and unoriginal, what follows next (the final twist in a film full of twists) is pleasing and enjoyable. As I mentioned above, it’s truly pleasing to see a film where the characters get their just desserts and on that score Red Rock West delivers in spades.

Overall, Red Rock West is a stunning, atmospheric throwback of a film. It’s a film that nobody has seen, and one that deserves a far higher profile. When the Hairpiece is mentioned as a terrible actor that makes crap films (something which is true for the most part), I always think of this lost gem and remember that when he’s pushed he can act, and not everything that he’s in is complete garbage. With a bit of luck, Rounders 2 will be a hit, and Dahl can escape from filming episodes of utter shit like True Blood to get back to making modern-noir. He’s clearly very good at it, and I, for one would be more than willing to pay to watch more.

Search this one out, you won’t be disappointed.

Until next time,


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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

84 responses to “The Underrated: Red Rock West”

  1. Tom_Bando says :

    I am a JT Walsh fan of longtime good standing–so yeah, I’ll be happy to search this out. I never saw the Last Seduction though I do remember when it came out, and Fiorentino’s performance was considered to be a keeper(I have fond memories of Gotcha!) and then some.

    Good write up. I also think of Cage as being a fine actor, despite himself.

  2. just pillow talk says :

    Yup, never heard of this. However, I will rectify that situation by adding it to the queue.

    See, I never thought Boyle was that hot, way too skinny, like she needed a few ham sandwiches.

    And the hairpiece can still act, witness Bad Lieutenant. But even in his bad to decent movies, he’s pretty much always entertaining.

    • Jarv says :

      Boyle is hot in this- looks more fed than usual as well.

      See- this is my point about this film: nobody has even heard of it and it’s most unfair.

      • Droid says :

        Boyle wasn’t always as thin as she was when she was on The Practice and dating Jack. She was always thin, but she was hideously thin during that time.

  3. Droid says :

    I’m trying to remember if I’ve seen this or not…

    I’ve seen The Last Seduction, which is really great.

    I like Dahl. He also directed Unforgettable with Liotta that was ridiculous, but enjoyable and also Joy Ride, which was far better than I expected. Candy Cane!!! And I liked Rounders. There’s a sequel???

    I also like The Piece. While some of his performances are rubbish, most of them aren’t boring. Except for the diabolically awful City of Angels.

  4. Stuntcock Mike says :

    On an unrelated note I watched Bronx Warriors last night.

    Just shockingly fucking retarded.

    Bronx Warriors 2 tonight.

  5. Tom_Bando says :

    Try Surrender Hulk instead. It’s not quite as bad.

    • Jarv says :

      Bixby Hulk v Thor> garlic and wifebeating Hulk> cheap plastic toys and slave labour hulk.

      This is true.

    • Tom_Bando says :

      Napoleon Leggings Hulk> Mao Tse Deng Wig Hulk. You know it’s true.

      • Droid says :

        Seriously, you guys are absolutely fucking nuts. Frenchie Hulk is garbage. I don’t care if you don’t like Flied Lice Hulk, how the fuck can anyone consider Surrender Hulk to be even remotely good?

        I’m astounded by all of you!

      • Jarv says :

        I don’t. I just consider it to be less shit than Chow Mein Hulk.

        No Hulk Poodle- that alone makes it better.

        Bixby Hulk FTW.

      • Droid says :

        No, it just has Hulk erection dilemmas, battle of the steroid freaks, and Liv Tyler.

        Oh yeah, much preferable.

      • Jarv says :

        preferable to Daddy issues, Actors studio, Hulk as constipated chinaman, and climax of hulk v cloud?

        Yup, I’d say so.

      • Droid says :

        Yeah, Hulk doing yoga, rain sodden embraces, a main character devoid of any character, a retarded Hulk.

        Hulk: “When I become Hulk I like it”

        TIH: “I can’t remember anything when I’m Hulk.”

        Hmmm… which is more interesting?

        Surrender Hulk is for great if you’re a moron.

      • Jarv says :

        Hulk going “I kind of like it” is the lamest fucking cliched freudian claptrap in either film.

        Neither film is any good.

      • koutchboom says :

        I really don’t have much of an opinion of either Hulk film. They both sort of suck. But I don’t remember either of them well enough to remember why, I think I just found them both boring. I wouldn’t mind watching them again.

        When I say they suck I don’t mean like they suck suck and are awful. Just that they are both sort of boring and totally forgettable.

      • Jarv says :

        but in the turd comparison stakes Cowardly Hulk> Overpopulation Hulk.

      • Droid says :

        Seriously, why does it always come back to HULK vs HULK?

        We need a moritorium on any and all Hulk talk.

      • Jarv says :

        Either that or someone should actually look at what they keep doing wrong and actually make a good one.

      • Droid says :

        Actually having the character think anything is claptrap? Oh, right, you much prefer a cypher designed to move the plot from splosion to chase to “you won’t like me when I’m horny” to chase to splosion to fight another steroid addled meathead. End credits.

        Anyhoo… I think we know where everyone stands…

        No more Hulk talk?

      • koutchboom says :

        I say we all have a hulk weekend and watch both Hulks back to back.

  6. koutchboom says :

    The Last Seduction, was made for TV. Or at least premiered on there, thats why it couldn’t be nominated for any Oscars. PETER BERG FOR THE WIN!!!

    • Jarv says :

      Are you sure about that Koutch? I could have sworn it got a cinema release.

      • Jarv says :

        You’re bang on. That’s outrageous.

        Who won the oscar in 1994. Probably Holly fucking Hunter

      • Droid says :

        Winner was Jessica Lange for Blue Sky

      • koutchboom says :

        Yeah I don’t know where I heard that, it was some documentary about ratings maybe? I can’t think of a reason I would’ve seen a documentary about Dahl or Linda? Odd.

      • Continentalop says :

        No Koutch is right. It played on HBO (I beleive that was the station) THAN played at theaters, robbing it of a chance for Oscar gold.

      • Jarv says :

        Scandalous. It’s a defining performance in one of the best films of the 90’s. Certainly better than anything else that year.

        Stupid fucking rule.

  7. Jarv says :

    Jessica Fucking Lange for Blue Sky. What a load of shit.

    Mind you, all of those nominated were shit: Winona Ryder for Little Women, Miranda Richardson, Fucking Susan Sarandon for the Client, Jodie Foster for fucking Nell! Christ!

    Fiorentino was fucking robbed.

    Stupid fucking rule.

    • Jarv says :

      And I want to fuck Fiorentino far more than them. I bet she’s filthy.

      • Continentalop says :

        I think you are underestimating the filthiness of Winona Ryder.

      • Jarv says :

        I’m sure Ryder is dirty, but I reckon Fiorentino would be a filthy fucking whore

      • Continentalop says :

        Once again I’m going with Winona. There is something about her that says she’ll surprise you by asking you to do some Sasha Grey kind of shit to her.

      • koutchboom says :

        Winona fans should seek out Sex and Death 101.

      • Jarv says :

        I am basing this opinion of Fiorentino being muckier than a miner’s arse crack entirely on The Last Seduction and Jade, though. The bit when Berg says to her that he’s hung like a horse, so she looks at him, unzips him under the table and has a rummage is boner inducing.

      • Continentalop says :

        I will say when she fucks him in the car was hot. Berg’s line about her enjoying sex like she was a guy was very telling for her character.

      • Jarv says :

        Up against the chain link fence as well leaping to mind.

        Fuck man, what a film.

  8. Tom_Bando says :

    Yeah Fiorentino was robbed no doubting that.

  9. Continentalop says :

    Great review Jarv, and a great film. One of the few that can technically be labelled a neo-noir.

    And is there any better way to reveal the Hairpiece’s basic character than how they did it in this film by showing him flat broke at a gas station in front of an unmanned open register and unable to help himself, no matter how tempted he is.

    • Jarv says :

      That’s so true- and I love the bit where he owns up his busted knee and so doesn’t get the job.

      It is one of the very few that can be labeled neo-noir. Last Seduction is another.

  10. Continentalop says :

    I disagree though about Bogie as the lead. It would have been Robert Mitchum, John Garfield or maybe John Payne.

  11. Tom_Bando says :

    John Payne! now there’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time. A long time(Cues Kenobi inflection)-

    I think of him from Miracle on 34th St and a couple of Westerns.

    • Continentalop says :

      Payne did a lot of good work in film noir -Kansas City Confidential, Larceny, 99 River Street, The Crooked Way. His character in 99 River Street reminds me a lot of Cage’s character in this film.

      • Tom_Bando says :

        I will have to see those flicks sometime. He was quite good. I was a on a bigtime Widmark kick a couple years ago and saw several of his from the late 40’s/early 50’s. That guy was really good.

      • Continentalop says :

        Widmark is awesome. Big fan of his, especially Night & the City and Pickup on South Street. Still got to see Slattery’s Hurricane.

    • Tom_Bando says :

      Panic in the Streets stayed w/ me afterwards, quite a good one, Palance and co. in New Orleans. I was impressed.

  12. Jarv says :

    I deliberately didn’t spoil the end of this, but I have to say that I fucking love the final sequence. Everything about it is simply superb, and Boyle’s drawled “shit” is absolutely perfect.

  13. Jarv says :

    Fuck it. I’m adding Last Seduction to this list as well.

    *groans as list reaches ridiculous proportions*

  14. ThereWolf says :

    I’ve not seen Red Rock West. It was on telly the other night as well…

    Lara Flynn Boyle. Yes please.

    • Jarv says :

      Yup. On the day of inexplicably great films when I didn’t move from the sofa for hours and there was a great film on solidly from about 7pm until 3 in the morning.

      RRW was one of them, and it watching it again reminded me.

  15. xiphos0311 says :

    Good choice haven’t seen it in a long time but I do like the movie it’s defiantly one of the hairpiece’s better acting gigs.

    Good job on the review with one small nitpick there are no Ex-Marines they are former Marines

    • Jarv says :


      Didn’t know that. Is there any particular reason for that?

      • xiphos0311 says :

        The bumper sticker answer is Once a Marine always a Marine

        The longer answer involves psychology, what it takes/means to become a Marine, difference between the Marine Corps and everybody else. Deadly boring issues nobody would care to read.

      • Jarv says :

        Fair enough.

  16. xiphos0311 says :

    Rounders is damn good by the way. Except for the part where freakishly large headed yet near midget Matt Damon turns down a smoking hot Famke Jensen for that skinny, pasty, squinty broad that looks like she sucks lemons for fun. No fucking way that happens.

  17. xiphos0311 says :

    What did happen to Dahl? I was looking on IMDB and he went from making, at the very least, interesting movies to working on mediocre to awful TV shows.

  18. MORBIUS says :

    “….. and Dahl can escape from filming episodes of utter shit like True Blood…….”

    You seem to be a little confused here….

    Utter Shit by its own definition pertains to the Twatlight Saga and its ilk.

    True Blood is more in the ‘working mans shit” vein.

  19. DocPazuzu says :

    Fiorentino came into the Barnes & Noble I worked at in NYC back in 1998. Yes, she was smokin’ hot.

  20. Tom_Bando says :

    Theresa Russell is now 53(!) aw hell you talk about time flying…Black Widow, anyone?

  21. Tom_Bando says :

    That too!

  22. DocPazuzu says :

    I remember the horror of first discovering that I had actually become older than the nude models in smutty magazines…

    • Jarv says :

      What’s scaring me is that our new PM is under 40. I think. That means that in less than 10 years there’s a very real chance that I’ll be older than the PM. Fuck.

    • Tom_Bando says :

      Or you can look at it this way:

      Go to any older show, say Happy Days or whathave you-chances are, you’re prob. older than (most of) the leads that were on there when it was being made.

      Heck I’m now older than 99% of Major Leaguers, heck I can remember back in the 70’s following the Red Sox etc and guy like Yaz were in their mid-30’s and called ‘Veteran’, ‘the Captain’ , ‘aging’, etc.

      Well in sports, sure. In real life-36 or whatever? that’s nothin’, really.

      It struck me that Northern Exposure stopped 15 years ago(!) and the episodes I’ve got on DVD were made 1991-92. Egads. That seems like yesterday, but that’s almost 20 years.

      I’m waiting for Ed Chigliak’s next movie.

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