Classic Review – Red Rock West (1993)

Nicolas Cage and Dennis Hopper share the screen in John Dahl's Red Rock West

Nicolas Cage and Dennis Hopper share the screen in John Dahl’s Red Rock West

Red Rock West

Directed by John Dahl

Starring Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper, Lara Flynn Boyle, J.T. Walsh

Review by Jordan

Red Rock West isn’t so much a thriller as an art-house expression of one, containing the same elements but infusing them with the opaqueness of heavy cigarette smoke and the rushed rhythm of uptempo jazz. Its a fable that relies too heavily on coincidence to be taken seriously, but remains captivating throughout, led by a quartet of lead performances that make sense of the obscure atmosphere and insular plot.

After being rejected a job on a drilling site in dusty Wyoming, returned Texan soldier Michael Williams (Cage) is mistaken for a hit-man by Wayne (J.T. Walsh), the bartender of nearby Red Rock, who has apparently hired him to kill his cheating wife, Suzanne (Boyle). In attempting to pocket the much needed money and leave town after warning Suzanne, he accidentally runs over a stranger who has stumbled onto the road in the dark and pouring rain, leading him back past the Welcome sign and where he’s involved in a police investigation, before the real hit-man Lyle (the perfectly cast Dennis Hopper) shows up and things go from bad to worse.

These characters each appear on the surface as if they could’ve walked straight out of a ’50’s western, labelled a drifter, bartender, sheriff, damsel and of course villain, but it’s the idiosyncrasies of Wayne and Suzanne in particular that add a more unique flavor to the entire offering. Wayne is the antagonist, but appears very quick to give up on his ambitions once his plan is interrupted by unaccounted-for dangers, and the motivations of his despised wife remain intriguing to the end, as do her feelings for the story’s hero Michael.

Director John Dahl, along with his brother and co-writer Rick constructed this film to be a noir with a knowing, black sense of humor, and their obvious passion for the medium seeps through the rust covered environments and unbelievable situations. They capture everything exciting about an unreasonable, brooding mystery that wouldn’t be out of place on late night cable TV, that here is focused on equal parts murder, blackmail and of course money. Dahl’s next work as director would be the smouldering, adult orientated drama The Last Seduction, which, thanks to an uncompromising turn from the volatile Linda Fiorentino is also his best, relegating Red Rock West even farther into obscurity, away from where it belongs.

Living life in the shadows hasn’t done the recognition of Red Rock West any favors, but at least it makes it a rewarding experience to track down.

4 getaway trains out of 5

3 responses to “Classic Review – Red Rock West (1993)

  1. I watched this film about a billion years ago in a film class in college. The professor was using it as an example of Western noir – I thought it was interesting but have almost no memory of it, heh.
    Now I want to watch it again thanks to this review!

    • Yeah having to study a film can sometimes work against having an appreciation for it from an entertainment perspective, but I’m pretty confident that you’d enjoy this if you gave it a re-watch now! I find it interesting that it’s never mentioned in conversations about the careers of Cage or Hopper.

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