Red Hill is not your dad’s western. Well, maybe it is if your dad is into dark drama and lot’s of action. Hughes’ debut film isn’t exactly earth-shatteringly new but because it’s tight and well shot it is impressive. The film is centered around Shane Cooper (Kwanten), a young, insecure cop with an eight-months pregnant wife who’s starting his first day on the job as a constable in a dying, remote Australian town
The story takes place on one, long day as Red Hill’s sheriff “Old Bill” (Bisley) and all the men in the town face off against escaped convict Jimmy Conway (Lewis) who’s hell bent on their destruction. The truth about why he’s back in town to kill off the men who sent him to prison is Cooper’s to uncover. By the way, if you’re thinking of the True Blood version of Ryan Kwanten, check that idea at the theater door, this isn’t Jason Stackhouse we’re seeing in Red Hill. Kwanten’s characterization of Cooper is psychologically deep and very well played.
This film is more dark thriller than western, though it’s described as “neo-western.” With gunfights that rival a lot of action films and a story and subplot that makes all the violence and bloodshed worthwhile, Red Hill is a gory film with a taut message about the treatment of indigenous people in Australia.
Hughes wrote the film with Kwanten in mind for the role of Cooper (a character whose name is a classic western mash-up of “Shane” and Gary Cooper) and Kwanten was on board from the first read. In Q & A following it’s debut at Fantastic Fest 2010, Kwanten stated that what drew him to the film was the lack of obvious exposition in the role and that Hughes didn’t explain away the plot with images, rather he let the story tell itself via Cooper’s experience – the film could not have been described better.
Red Hill was a highlight of my Fantastic Fest 2010 film and considering that Sony has already signed Hughes to a trilogy deal (look for Black Valley in coming months) the studio believes in the filmmaker’s chops, too. See Red Hill if you’re a Kwanten fan, if you want to see what Australia film has to offer, if you love westerns, or if you like suspenseful thrillers. For whatever reason you see it, you won’t be disappointed.