This is my latest contribution to The Big Picture, the internationally-recognised magazine and website that offers an intelligent take on cinema, focussing on how film affects our lives. This piece about John Dahl’s 1993 western neo noir thriller Red Rock West was written as part of The Big Picture’s Lost Classics strand, although I am including it within my list of Great Films You Need To See.
Cinema’s dustbin is littered with movies that disappeared between the cracks or didn’t fit neatly into any easy-to-sell marketing category.
It’s a fate that befell the criminally underseen Red Rock West, John Dahl’s sophomore feature that, according to the late Roger Ebert, “exists sneakily between a western and a thriller, between a film noir and a black comedy”.
The film is worth seeing for the cast alone. Nicolas Cage gives one of his most hangdog turns as Michael Williams, an ordinary Joe on the road to nowhere who rolls into dead-end Red Rock and is immediately mistaken for “Lyle from Dallas” by bar owner Wayne Brown (J.T. Walsh).
Down on his luck, Michael keeps his mouth shut when he accepts $5,000 by Wayne to kill his wife Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle). He’s then offered double by Suzanne to kill Wayne after telling her about the contract. The plot takes a turn for the perilous with the arrival of the real Lyle (Dennis Hopper), a psychopathic hitman who dresses like he stepped out of a Garth Brooks concert.
Dahl, who co-wrote the script with brother Rick, throws in more twists than a pretzel factory and has a ball in the process. There’s an amusing running joke that sees the exasperated Michael continually trying to leave Red Rock but, like Jim Carrey’s Truman Burbank, is seemingly never able to escape.
There’s more than a little of David Lynch in the film, and not just because three-quarters of the main cast have worked with him. Hopper is in full-on Frank Booth mode, while Boyle exudes the sort of old school matinee seduction she displayed in Twin Peaks.
In a film of meaty performances, the tastiest is given by Walsh (who should have appeared in a Lynch film, but never did). In lesser hands Wayne could have been a stock villain, but Walsh imbues him with a banality that is all the more chilling for being so underplayed.
Dahl is one of life’s nearly men. Now predominately a director of high-end cable and network TV shows, his film career never garnered the commercial success it was due in spite of such entertaining fare as The Last Seduction and Rounders, the Matt Damon and Edward Norton joint that helped launch the current poker craze.
Released in the wake of Reservoir Dogs (1992), Red Rock West became a casualty of the rapidly changing landscape of American independent cinema post-Tarantino. Watched now, more than 20 years on, the film has barely aged a day and deserves its place alongside the likes of the Coens’ Blood Simple (1984) as one of cinema’s most ingenious neo-noirs.
Excellent review, thanks for bringing this film to my attention. I will definitely try and watch this as soon as I can.
Thanks man. Report back to me when you get chance to see it!
Love this choice. It’s such a forgotten gem and works better for me than The Last Seduction, which received more acclaim. You hit on all the reasons that it’s great, and JT Walsh is a big one.
I like The Last Seduction, but this is Dahl’s best film. JT Walsh never got the respect he was due.
Brilliant review. I always thought this was a David Lynch film! I really enjoyed The Last Seduction though
It’s got a lot of Lynch in it that’s for sure. Thanks for the kind words buddy.
Wow it’s been a while since I saw Lara Flynn Boyle in anything. Nice one Mark, I haven’t seen this one but am willing to give it a rent!
Please do! You won’t regret it (I hope!).
This is one of my favorite movies – nicely done!
Cheers buddy. Glad that we’re on the same wavelength.
Awesome review, I should really look into this!
Muchoa gracias Zoe. If you like Nicolas Cage (and who doesn’t?) then you’ll love it.
Couldn’t agree more – this is a brilliant film and I completely agree with you about the performances – all four main cast members are great. I like The Last Seduction just as much as this, and think Dahl is criminally underrated – both of those should have got bigger audiences. Rounders isn’t too bad either…I just have no idea why he decided to make Turbulence! Nice work, hope more people check this out as a result.
Sorry to correct you, but Dahl isn’t guilty of Turbulence, that’s Robert Butler! I’m very glad you and I are on the same page when it comes to this movie. If a couple more people see it then job done!
Whoops…it’s a good job I don’t write a film blog or anything like that eh? I checked IMDB and I meant the ironically-named Unforgettable. Just checked and Ray Liotta is in both…that must be it!
Great highlight Mark. This is one of those rare little hidden gems. I lived this film and Oliver Stone’s “U-Turn” all but ripped it off. It’s such a shame that Dahl didn’t really noticed. He definitely had a lot of potential and “The Last Seduction” was another little treat from him.
Thanks as always Mark. I’m very pleased that you and I share the same opinion about this film. I hadn’t thought about U-Turn, but you’re absolutely right.
The 90s certainly had their share of neo noir gems. Fine write-up.
Thanks very much my friend. They certainly did. Not enough being made these days.
Solid work man, not only have I never heard of this, but I want to correct that by seeing it as soon as possible. Looks really good and always love it when Dennis Hopper is on screen and playing the villain. He’s so very good at that. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!
I’m very pleased if I’ve turned you on to this movie mate. It deserves a far bigger audience truth be told. I hope you check it out soon; if so tell me what you think.
Superb write up here Mark. Wasn’t aware of this one to be honest, but it’s always cool to be made aware of new stuff! Cheers man!
Mate, you need to check it out; it’s a real blast. Hopper is his usual crazy self, while Cage does the business.