|A stylish and moody modern day western, Red Hill also features one of the most interesting antagonists seen this year.
Writer/director/editor Patrick Hughes is a filmmaker of many influences. They can be seen all over his feature film debut, a western set during the present day in a sleepy Victorian town. Luckily for us his influences are of an exceptional quality, and Hughes knows how to channel them to fuel his own creativity.
Oreo, Victoria plays backdrop to the story of Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten), a city cop who, along with his pregnant wife (Claire van der Boom) seeks a fresh start in the rural district of Red Hill.
It is a first day on the country beat which Shane will never forget. First he loses his gun, hardly the stuff gunslingers are made of. Next he falls on the wrong side of town sheriff Old Bill (Steve Bisley), whose old school, no bullshit outlook on life, clashes with Shane’s Gen X sensibilities.
Personality squabbles are put aside when news breaks that escaped convict Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis) is headed back to town, for what many presume as vengeance for his incarceration.
In Conway is an antagonist who carries a heavy weight both spiritually and politically. It is of no coincidence that he is portrayed by Tommy Lewis, the same actor who played an Aboriginal man pushed to the edge in Fred Schepisi’s classic The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith.
Like that film, the injustice done to Australia’s indigenous people is used as a trigger for revenge, which Hughes has his actors perform in brutal, bloody fashion, especially Lewis’ Conway who stalks his prey as a methodical, mute, and merciless spirit of vengeance.
Again, that Conway seems like a Frankenstein monster of assorted western boogeymen and gunslingers isn’t a surprise. Red Hill is as much a tribute to the western, as it is a slick new entrant to the famed genre.
A country and western tinged score is always present, as are plenty of shots of men riding on horseback with the scenery of Oreo a more than adequate backdrop. Yet above all it seems that Hughes is drawn to that old adage of honour amongst men, an element sorely lacking in many shoot ‘em ups of today.
Red Hill is not the most innovative of films, yet what it lacks in originality it makes up with sincerity and grit.
With this tribute to his heroes, Hughes has proven himself to be an exciting director to watch. Now it’s time he speaks with his own voice.