Red Rock West (1992) / Crime-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for violence, language and sexual situations
Running Time: 98 min.

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Lara Flynn Boyle, J.T. Walsh, Dennis Hopper
Director:  John Dahl
Screenplay: John Dahl, Rick Dahl

Review published May 14, 2003

Red Rock West is an early modern-noir from one of the premiere directors in that small genre, John Dahl (Rounders, Joy Ride).  It marks his second effort, coming four years after the impressive debut in the equally twisty thriller, Kill Me Again.  His mix of gritty atmospherics, shady characters, and corkscrew plotting is a joy to watch, even the film at its core is pulp crime fiction.  Solely existing to entertain, this is a film for people who love older films, what with its blend of noir and Westerns, bringing together two classic styles of filmmaking and making it something new for today's audience.

Nic Cage (Moonstruck, Raising Arizona) plays Michael, fresh from Texas with bum knee, shopping himself out in Wyoming in hopes of a career as an oil rigger.  It's hard for him to find a place who'll take a chance on a man with an injury, and he is down to his last dollars, until he walks into a bar and is mistaken as "Lyle from Dallas" by bartender Wayne (Walsh, Hoffa).  Hearing Wayne is offering a job to Lyle (Hopper, Super Mario Bros.), Michael plays along for the cash, and finds it is ostensibly the payment for murdering Wayne's cheating wife, Suzanne (Boyle, Wayne's World).  Michael is an honest guy, and tells Suzanne the plan, and she doubles his contact fee to do something for her.  However, his plan is to take both lowlifes money and split, but plans go askew when he hits Suzanne's boyfriend on the road, and gets hauled in for murder.

I could go on with the plot, but to do that would spoil the joy of watching one of the smarter thrillers of the early Nineties.  It goes hand-in-hand with the Coen brothers' excellent noir, Blood Simple, without the artistic aspirations.  Rather, it's the characters that are the key, and the serpentine plot, making this a refreshingly unpretentious visceral crime flick. 

The acting is quite good, with Nicolas Cage playing what he does well, the conflicted down-and-out reluctant hero, while J.T. Walsh turns in another fine performance as the heavy, along with Dennis Hopper in another of his roles as the crazy loose screw.  Perhaps the only weakness is Lara Flynn Boyle, who has the looks but little of the charisma necessary to play the sultry seductress with the heart of ice, but luckily the story keeps moving despite it all.

Red Rock West is primarily recommended for those who love modern-noir, but makes for an enjoyable evening if you just want a decent crime thriller without the usual headache-inducing suspense elements.  It's not an edge-of-your seat thrill-ride, but it is absorbing for those without short attention spans.  A smart and often humorous film worth seeking out in the rental bins for a change of pace from the norm.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo