Reviewed by Heather Wixson
Starring Ryan Kwanten, Steve Bisley, Tom E. Lewis, Claire Van Der Boom
Directed by Patrick Hughes
Distributed by Strand Releasing
In Red Hill we are introduced to a young, ambitious police officer named Shane Cooper (Kwanten), who has just relocated to the remote Australian town of Red Hill with his pregnant wife, Alice (Van Der Boom), to start a family away from the stresses of city living.
However, Shane comes to realize that what he thought would be a quiet first day on his new job is quickly transforming into a living nightmare when the news breaks that Jimmy Conway (Lewis), a ruthless killer hell-bent on revenge on the townsfolk of Red Hill, has escaped prison and is on the loose. Shane is then forced to take matters into his own hands in order to survive the bloodbath unfolding around him.
Red Hill is a classic example of taut storytelling ripe with intriguing characters and chilling violence, which is much to the credit of writer/director/producer Hughes. With hints of No Country for Old Men, A History of Violence and, oddly enough, Halloween, Hughes manages to draw you in with a slow build of tension in the first act and steadily escalates to an explosive three-way stand-off between Shane, Jimmy and Old Bill (Bisley), Red Hill’s corrupt sheriff who may not be the law-abiding man he says he is.
Kwanten’s portrayal of Shane, a man who is struggling with the idea of the value of human life in a world that wants him to shoot first and ask questions later, is nothing short of revelatory. These days Kwanten is known globally as the sexy but often clueless Jason Stackhouse on HBO’s “True Blood”, but in Red Hill he shows he’s more than just a pretty face and a killer six-pack. Much more. He plays Shane with a quiet eagerness and determination that demonstrates when given the right material, he can carry an entire film quite well.
Our killer Jimmy is a ferocious shell of the man he once was after the loss of his wife and spending countless years behind bars. When it comes time for him to go looking for vengeance, his mere presence on screen is just as chilling as his actions. He very well might be the most intense villain I’ve seen on the big screen since Javier Bardem was running around with a cattlegun as Anton Chigurh, all while never saying one single word (until the very end). Bisley, who reminds me of an Australian Donald Sutherland, plays Old Bill with grisly tenacity that leaves you as the viewer a bit uneasy any time he’s on the screen. You know this guy thinks he’s the law and will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
The beautifully stark wide open Australian landscape in Red Hill is almost as much of a character in the film as the actors working in it. With stunning cinematography work done by newcomer Tim Hudson, the film manages to pull off being both dazzling and chilling just with some very simple shots. The movie takes its time to build tension, and it’s much to the credit of Hudson’s shooting approach that just the simplest elements on screen can leave you haunted as a viewer.
Red Hill is the perfect combination of well-paced storytelling, gritty violence and a compelling morality play of just how far one man would go in order to uphold the law even if it means going against his better judgment. It’s a movie that deserves to find an audience and probably one of the best I’ve seen this entire year.
Red Hill opens in limited release today (11/05/10) in Los Angeles, New York and Austin with more dates hopefully to follow.
4 1/2 out of 5
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