Sunday, November 29, 2009

Film Review: RED ROCK WEST (1993, John Dahl)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 98 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Nicolas Cage, Lara Flynn Boyle, Dennis Hopper, J.T. Walsh.
Tag-line: "...all roads lead to intrigue.
Best one-liner:  
 "You must be Suzanne. You look pretty enough to eat."  (Better when recited by a terrifying Dennis Hopper.)

Thankfully not succumbing to Eszterhasian flavors-of-the-month, RED ROCK WEST is a respectable Southwestern neo-noir in the mold of DETOUR or THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE with a touch of the old Hitchcockian mistaken identity. Director John Dahl crafts a thriller that nearly belongs to that 80's genre where an unwitting protagonist is swept up in an existential, horrific, endless journey with one terrible thing leading to another (see: AFTER HOURS, MIRACLE MILE, SOMETHING WILD- and Oliver Stone tried to duplicate RED ROCK WEST's success in the genre with 1997's uneven U TURN). 
Noir updated for the 90's and beyond has a kind of disquieting vibe to it– dingy, rat-trap motels and eerie, rustic gas stations have been replaced with Comfort Inns and Chevrons; stark lighting and bold shadows have swapped for slick production value and unambiguous color. The film definitely works, however, despite it all. Dahl casts his film with a squad of David Lynch alumni: Nicolas Cage (WILD AT HEART), Lara Flynn Boyle (TWIN PEAKS), and Dennis Hopper (BLUE VELVET), and you can never go wrong with that. Cage is effective as our bewildered anchor,
Boyle is appropriately femme-fatale-ish (and as an added bonus, she already had 1940's eyebrows),
 and Hopper is utterly unhinged (nearly repeating his performance from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2).
 Wearing a ten gallon hat, lasciviously licking his lips, and dispensing nicknames (like "Wayner") and nuggets of wisdom (like "Don't piss on the seat, even if they's not lucky!") with élan. There's denim, bolo ties; a vile, intense J.T. Walsh; and an excellent, twangy soundtrack with the likes of Johnny Cash, The Kentucky Headhunters, and Dwight Yoakam (who has a cameo). 
There are so few characters, the film is nearly a chamber piece, and it develops into a sort of blend of TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE and THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY. Since the film has the chops to pull it off, that's a real good thing. Four stars.


Unknown said...

This is one my fave neo noirs and quite possibly my fave J.T. Walsh performance. Man, does he play a scumbag in this one. And it's funny, 'cos at first you just think he's some jilted husband trying to off his wife. As the film goes one and the characters begin to reveal their true nature do you realize what he's really trying to do.

Good call on Oliver Stone trying to shamelessly rip this film off with U TURN. Normally, I'd defend Stone to the death but not in this case.

This film also reminds one of just how good Nicolas Cage can be. He does a good job as the hapless everyman caught way over his head in a sticky situation. You're not sure how the hell he's gonna get out of it but you are rooting for him.

HK Fanatic said...

I just watched this on Netflix's Instant Watch a few nights ago and was thoroughly impressed. I'd seen J.T. Walsh in a few other movies, like "Breakdown," but he was absolutely terrifying here. That part where he's driving with Nic Cage in the passenger seat and he's remaining calm and collected despite the fact that he's driving offroad like a maniac and then he just bursts out, "I said - DON'T FUCK WITH ME!!"

Great performances across the board, a truly haunting score, and a well-observed sense of the surreal...all make for a great 90's thriller.

Also, did you happen to get my e-mail, Sean?