Red Hill (Patrick Hughes, 2010)

Patrick Hughes’ debut feature rides into town all guns blazing. The first-time Director-Writer-Editor-Producer has only gone and fashioned a modern-day Western, in the vein of No Country For Old Men or, more closely, Bad Day at Black Rock. 

Located in a remote outpost of Northern Australia, Red Hill is the town to which new Police Constable Shane Cooper (True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten) comes, with his pregnant wife in tow. Shane is a city boy who has requested a transfer to the titular town on account of his wife needing peace and quiet, following an earlier miscarriage. But boy, have they come to the wrong town.

Red Hill is presided over by the Police Inspector, Old Bill (Steve Bisley). Bill is passionate about the town and its heritage; he is eager to preserve the old ways and will not allow Red Hill to become the sort of place that attracts new fangled tourism.  But as in all the best westerns, Old Bill and the town of Red Hill hide a dark secret.

Things start to go badly wrong for the town’s police when convicted murderer Jimmy Conway(Tom E Lewis) escapes from prison, and heads for Red Hill to settle some old scores.  Conway, an Aborigine and one-time tracker, is also very handy with a gun and as the body count mounts, Shane begins to learn the awful truth about Jimmy’s bloodthirsty quest for vengeance.

Hughes has said that he was drawn to the Western genre on account of its moral code, and Red Hill certainly gives us clearly defined characters, each acting to their own particular code; though he doesn’t allow it to be quite as simple a story as good guy versus bad guy. In making Jimmy an Aborigine, Hughes draws parallels between Australian and Native American social history. Jimmy has been displaced by Old Bill and his gang in a bloody row over land and returns to seek retribution.

Ryan Kwanten puts in a gutsy performance as new boy Shane Cooper, being put through the mill on a memorable first day in the job. Tom E Lewis is terrific as Jimmy; a dark menacing presence throughout, he only actually gets one line of dialogue in the entire movie, but you don’t really notice due to the swift pace of the action, and he makes for a great “bad guy”.

Apparently Red Hill is the first film in a trilogy planned by its director; it’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here. Though not without its faults, Red Hill is a strong addition the contemporary Western genre. The cast acquit themselves admirably and the soundtrack adds to the Western theme with fingerpicking country guitar and the odd blast of mariachi. This is one first day at work you really don’t want to have.

Red Hill is currently showing at the IFI. Trailer here


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