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No Country for a Young Cop

MOVIE REVIEW
Red Hill (2010)

Red-hill-patrick-hughes-ryan-kwanten-steve-bisley
Strand Releasing

You’ve seen every bit of the modern-day Australian western “Red Hill” before, but writer-director Patrick Hughes plays the notes well. From the first-day-on-the-job hook to the backward small town, the silent aborigine killer and the complexly staged shootouts, the film plants itself firmly in B-movie territory and stays there for an efficient 95 minutes.

Ryan Kwanten of “True Blood” stars as Shane Cooper, a police officer transferred from the big city to the small, remote Red Hill so that his pregnant wife can conceive in idyllic peace. Sadly for the Coopers, Shane’s arrival coincides with the prison escape of Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis), who was put away by Sheriff Bill (Steve Bisley) and is headed back to town with a deadly axe to grind — or, as the tagline puts it, “revenge just rode into town.”

The movie has a what-you-see-is-what-you-get sort of feel to it. Mr. Hughes offers time-warped locals, hints at conspiracy, the eeriness of desolate streets and even some horseback riding. But rarely have the archetypes come packaged in an Australian setting, and the movie engagingly plays off the vast, haunting reservoirs of mysterious history that infuse the country’s rural expanse. The picture taps into the fundamental truth that there’s something inherently sinister about the Australian frontier, a sense that it (more so, even, than the former American one) is the true edge of civilization.

When Jimmy escapes and sets his sights on the town, the movie transforms from an offbeat, vaguely ominous tale of cultural displacement into a series of extended action set pieces that unfold in empty, dark settings. With machinelike precision, the convict advances on his blood quest, methodically mowing down the men who wronged him. Mr. Hughes concocts a series of creative, unpredictable ways for Jimmy to do so, and maximizes the tension by making full use of the town’s disorienting geography and of the underlit nooks inside its buildings.

As the naïve, overwhelmed Cooper, Mr. Kwanten makes an engaging foil. While scrambling to make sense of Jimmy’s torrent of anger, racing against the clock to stave off his deadly foe and protecting his wife and unborn child, Red Hill’s newest officer makes for an ideal innocent man protagonist. He’s the heart that beats inside Mr. Hughes’s slick genre machine.

RED HILL

Opens on Nov. 5 in Manhattan.

Written, directed and edited by Patrick Hughes; director of photography, Tim Hudson; music by Dmitri Golovko, with additional music by Charlie Parr; production design by Enzo Iacono; costumes by Nicola Dunn; produced by Mr. Hughes and Al Clark; released by Strand Releasing. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Ryan Kwanten (Shane Cooper), Steve Bisley (Old Bill), Tom E. Lewis (Jimmy Conway), Claire van der Boom (Alice Cooper), Christopher Davis (Slim) and Kevin Harrington (Barlow).

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