Red Rock West (United States, 1993)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

There's a fine line between coincidence and contrivance, and what characterizes that demarcation has more to do with enjoyability than believability. Red Rock West, a film consigned to cable and video until a Bay Area theater decided to give it a shot, has a number of plot elements that don't bear close scrutiny. Their presentation is so stylish, however, that there isn't any real incentive to start picking apart the story. Red Rock West works well on its own terms, and that's good enough for ninety-plus minutes of solid entertainment.

I wish I could say that the film noir genre is undergoing a renaissance, but many of the recent offerings have been marginal at best. The plots don't twist enough, the characters often aren't grungy, and the cinematography is frequently a bit too crisp. None of those faults manacle Red Rock West. Atmospheric because of its low-budget look, and boasting a marvellous performance by Nicholas Cage, this film manages to capture the right spirit from the first scene.

Michael (Cage) is a down-on-his luck ex-Marine with a bad leg and an empty wallet. Driving 1100 miles on the mistaken promise of work, Mike finds himself in the town of Red Rock with no job, no money, and little hope - until he wanders into the Red Rock Bar, that is. There he meets Wayne (J.T. Walsh), who immediately asks him if he's Lyle from Dallas, ready to do "the job." At first, Mike is ecstatic, recognizing that there's money involved and figuring that he can do anything this Lyle can. By the time he learns that the job in question is to kill Wayne's wife Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle), he's in too deep to back out.

As grim as Red Rock West might at first appear, it never takes itself very seriously. There's a lot of humor in this film, much of which is supplied by Nicholas Cage's unspoken "why me?"s as circumstances conspire to pull him deeper and deeper into a quagmire of which he wants no part. There's also a running joke involving the "Welcome to Red Rock" and "You are now leaving Red Rock" signs.

The crowning irony of this film is that Michael, the supposed hit man, is a genuinely good guy. He doesn't get a job because he tells his prospective employer about his bum knee. Given a perfect opportunity, he doesn't steal an inviting pile of $20 bills left out in the open at an abandoned gas station. He wants to do right, yet suddenly he has been hired as a cold-blooded killer.

Dennis Hopper, whose latest few efforts in front of and behind the camera have been rather unimpressive, enjoys himself immensely as the real Lyle, and his scenes with Cage crackle with suppressed energy. Hopper seems to be at his best playing this sort of character, as was made abundantly clear in David Lynch's Blue Velvet. Lara Flynn Boyle, never an actress of particular depth, gives a decent turn as Suzanne, the femme fatal, although her chemistry with Cage never causes sparks to fly. He carries most of their scenes together.

Red Rock West is a roller-coaster ride of a film, designed for those who like their thrillers spiced with the unexpected. While it's probably not playing at your local multiplex, it more-than-likely is available at a nearby video store. Red Rock West will likely surprise any viewer -- in more ways than one.

Red Rock West (United States, 1993)

Director: John Dahl
Cast: Nicholas Cage, Lara Flynn Boyle, Dennis Hopper, J.T. Walsh
Screenplay: John Dahl and Rick Dahl
Music: William Olvis
U.S. Distributor: Roxie Releasing
Run Time: 1:37
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "NR" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1