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,