Westerns are typically fun movies to review because they usually don’t deviate much from a basic formula. There is usually a criminal, and there is usually a good guy out there to shoot that varmint. Technically, that is all there is to it. Furthermore, the budget (unless big stars are involved) is small, making for some creative storytelling. Today, we get to review an Australian western: Red Hill. Let’s see if it differs from the typical American one.
We overlook a lush Australian landscape (aren’t they all this way?) and pause to look at some horses. Suddenly, there is a disturbance in the distance and the horses run. Dun dun dun. Scene shift. Shane Cooper (played by Ryan Kwanten) is up and getting ready for first day of work. His wife, Alice (yes…Alice Cooper, played by Claire van der Boom) who apparently got her Frankenstein fed, is very pregnant. They talk about his first day, and soon he goes off to work.
It is Shane’s first day as a new constable for the Red Hill town. Shane decides to walk into work rather than drive (Were you expecting a horse? We’ll get to that later.) He walks into his new place of employment and wakes up the clerk, Earl (played by Ken Radley). Nothing ever seems to happen in this one-horse town, I reckon. They make nice, and we are soon introduced to another constable, Manning (played by Richard Sutherland) who is apparently just really angry as he shuts his door and goes back to work.
Earl suggests that Shane should go see the lead inspector, Bill (played by Steve Bisley) who is a town hall meeting. So he goes off and does that. Bill isn’t very happy at the way Shane showed up for his first day, especially without his gun (which apparently is still packed away in some boxes back at the house). They talk about why Shane came out here (for his wife who has miscarried before and needs a calmer life) and the order of business for the town.
There is Earl back at his desk, and suddenly there is a TV news report. Dun Dun Dun. It seems that Jimmy Conway (played by Tom E. Lewis) has escaped out of jail. He was a convicted killer in the town of Red Hill and he’s coming back for revenge. Soon Bill forms a posse (I want to form a posse, so I can Bust a Move). They assign posts, and the newbie, Shane, gets one where supposedly nobody ever is expected to pass through. Rigghhhhhhtttttt.
So, here is Shane falling asleep at the wheel, talking to his wife, when a car drives up. Shane stops the car and there are a couple of really nervous folks driving it. All of the sudden, Jimmy jumps out of the back. GRRRRRRR. Seriously, the dude is scary-looking; half of his face is completely burnt. Jimmy just kinda looks at him and the two have a short confrontation before Shane accidentally slips and falls down a ravine. Shane is unconscious, and Jimmy is now on the revenge track, heading into town. Can Shane wake up in time to save the town, or will Jimmy have his day?
Of course, on the way there are some twists and turns until we get to a fruitful climax. Evaluating the characters, one person stands out above all the others, and he only gets one line of dialog. Jimmy Conway. Seriously, this dude is a bad-ass to the core. His face is the stuff that “B” movies are made about, and he’s an eagle shot. The rest of the cast is serviceable, the only guy I have issues with is Ryan Kwanten and his portrayal of Shane Cooper.
As a reference point, I would like to point out the back cover: “Kwanten is Utterly Badass” says some dude named Capone from Ain’t It Cool News. When? Where in this movie is this guy ever kicking tail and taking names? He spends most of this movie either unconscious, tied up, or held at gunpoint. His wife is more badass than he; she’s freaking Alice Cooper, for Pete’s sake. It just strikes me as awful, and there is no coming back once you establish this guy as your lead in this movie.
Red Hill is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30 mbps. As mentioned earlier, this film is shot in Australia, and it looks quite good. The landscape is awesome, and the fact that the film spends a lot of time outside really brings depth to the colors. The high-definition image provides plenty of detail, and it’s particularly these vista shots where that detail and sharpness truly shines the most. It’s even more of a shock that they filmed this in what I like to call “epic” widescreen instead of the usual 1.78/1.85 that we are used for low-budget films. Kudos all around here.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is actually fairly decent too. I did have some trouble with the Australian accents, but after the first twenty minutes you should be adapted to the dialects and be able to make it through. There are plenty of sound effects and talking that uses your surround speakers and is again a pleasant surprise.
After looking back at Red Hill, I realize I could have really enjoyed the movie if they had worked on one general principle: making the lead actor look less like a buffoon. They did an excellent job with the antagonist and a pretty decent job with the supporting actors, but Kwanten can’t be taken seriously throughout the movie. It really ruins the experience in an otherwise decent western.
The disc has excellent video and audio but is completely devoid of any extras. My recommendation for this movie is to enjoy it for the popcorn movie it is. Don’t expect anything out of the lead, and try to appreciate the scenery and Jimmy Conway. It will work out from there. So giddyup partner, and let’s ride!
Some of the tech information for the Blu-ray was provided by Gino Sassani.