Friday, June 4, 2010

Red Rock West

I somehow managed to miss Red Rock West, John Dahl’s mean little Neo Noir, until now. This despite the fact that it is so far up my alley that its practically down my throat.

The film’s premise is a standard Neo Noir one. A drifter comes into town and ends up mistaken for a hitman and ordered to kill the interested party’s wife. Paid but not wanting to do the job, he skips town with his employer’s money, but not before telling his target about the plot and accepting another cash payment from her to off her husband. He skips town a several thousand dollars richer and heads for the hills.

Simple right?

You haven’t seen many Neo Noirs.

It’s worth noting that Red Rock West is one of the most relentlessly structured movies of all time. You could basically read it with a screen writer’s manual in hand and mark it off all the stuff you’re supposed to do minute by minute. You can basically hear Robert McKee weeping in delight. Its not really a positive or negative just an observation. It does however show that there is occasionally something to be said about the three act structure. Red Rock West is a relentless movie, and every complication (and there are plenty) hits with maximum impact.

Nicholas Cage plays the hapless drifter, and its from that weird pre The Rock post Wild At Heart period of his where you could say that Cage was the most subdued part of the film and actually mean it. Its safe to like Cage again, thanks to his great performances in Kick Ass and Bad Lieutanent making it OK for hipsters to retroactively praise the bug eyed crazy shtick that Cage has been trotting out for the last ten years, and pretend like they were in on the joke all the while. (Look for this to reach some kind of annoyance Nexus when The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which I’m actually looking forward to, comes out). But as much as I enjoy Cage’s “Mega Acting”. I miss these types of roles to. There’s not much too it. But he plays it well, lean and compact. An average, likable schmoe forced to survive on his limited wits in a harsh situation.

Hopper plays the real hitman, and while his role is more his “That guy in Speed.” Level of villainy rather then Frank Booth. He gives the role both a real sense of danger, and more importantly a real sense of amorality. He even gets a few moments to radiate that genuine Hopper Lunacy we all know and love. As in the scene where he forces Cage to race a speeding Freight Train.

If there’s a weak link in the chain it’s Laura Flynn Boyle as Cage’s intial target, and later partner in crime. Boyle is a fine actress given the right material, but she is convincing neither as a vulnerable victim, nor a cold blooded Femme Fatale. Dahl to his credit seems to realize this, and she spends the minimal amount of time on screen until the final thirty minutes or so.

Red Rock West, might at the end of the day be nothing but a poor man's Blood Simple. But damned if it doesn’t do a good job of it.


Will Errickson said...

I remember watching this a few times in the mid '90s and really liking it; you're right, Cage was still cool from Wild at Heart and Raising Arizona. I also liked Dwight Yoakam in a bit part, if I recall correctly, as a truck driver. Dahl's The Last Seduction was another great Neo Noir of the era, as was Carl Franklin's One False Move and, of course, Frear's The Grifters.

filmdr said...

When I heard of Hopper's passing, I thought of his role in this film first. For films like this and The Last Seduction, John Dahl still hasn't received the attention he deserves.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Will: That's one hell of a list for a good weekend of movie watching. I LOVE One False Move. And man don't even get me started on the grifters.

@ Film Dr: I agree he's an underrated filmmaker. Rounders alone should get him more of a reputation.

Unknown said...

"Red Rock West, might at the end of the day be nothing but a poor man's Blood Simple. But damned if it doesn’t do a good job of it."

Well said! I love this film and it is definitely one of my fave Neo Noirs - the 1990s was a great decade for these kinds of films with the likes of THE GRIFTERS, THE HOT SPOT, AFTER DARK MY SWEET, etc.

The cast is what really makes this one so enjoyable to watch. How good is J.T. Walsh as the scumbag sherriff/grifter who makes Cage's life a living hell? He's one of those character actors that I could watch in anything. He was that good.

I always wondered if the filmmakers of RED ROCK WEST were big David Lynch fans as you have quite a mini-reunion of his alumni with Cage, Boyle and Hopper. I think that's what drew me to this film in the first place.

I also agree completely with you on Cage's subdued performance in this one. He does the everyman bit quite well here and only freaks out when it is warranted.

As for Boyle, I can see what you mean but for me, it's all in her eyes. There is something icy and dead in them that makes for a pretty decent femme fatale but I'm certainly no fan of hers (except for TWIN PEAKS, natch).

Very nice write-up. Now I wanna watch this film again!

Bryce Wilson said...

Walsh is fantastic in the movie.

Its funny I really didn't notice the Lynch reunion until you pointed it out. That's pretty funny its just right across the board there.