It’s Constable Shane Cooper’s first day of work in the small Australian town of Red Hill. He has his hands full dealing with a storm warning, an escaped convict and a tough egotistical boss.
The advertising tagline for RED HILL is Revenge Just Rode Into Town. As much as director, writer, producer and editor (!) Patrick Hughes intended his tale to be an Australian take on the Western – it is also a basic revenge tale.
We are introduced to the town of Red Hill through the eyes of Shane Cooper (Kwanten) the new police constable. He and his very pregnant wife have moved to the area from the city in search of a quiet life. Cooper discovers the townsfolk are a tightly knit group as are his new colleagues led by Old Bill (Bisley). It becomes clear to the young man that his new job will be more challenging than he imagined.
News comes of a prison break. Escapee Dural “Jimmy” Conway (Lewis), a convicted murderer and former resident of Red Hill, is at large. Old Bill is sure that Conway is headed straight back to his old home town to pay back the police and Old Bill in particular, for having put him into prison. Red Hill goes into lock down. Conway is on the hunt. Why is not clear. The mystery troubles newcomer Cooper.
The majority of the movie is about capturing Jimmy Conway. He is a man of almost mystical abilities. Old Bill describes him as a the best brumby tracker he’s ever seen. This is where Patrick Hughes uses the white perception of Australian Aboriginals to create a character with powers the whitefellas fear.
This is not a movie for people looking for a subtle exploration of the relationship of Indigenous and European Australians. Hughes has made a violent action flick that verges on Oz-ploitation. The casting of Lewis as Conway is a deliberate tip of the hat to his ground-breaking debut in Fred Schepisi’s 1978 film THE CHANT OF JIMMY BLACKSMITH. RED HILL doesn’t have that movie’s horrific undertone or serious intent. It uses the subject of race in Australia as the catalyst for the story, without saying anything deep or insightful. This will annoy people who care about these issues, but as the film is aimed squarely at the general market, these concerns are unlikely to impact on its box office.
The performances in RED HILL are serviceable. Kwanten is likeable as Cooper, Bisley is convincing as the tough old copper and Lewis has a some memorable moments as Conway. Claire van der Boom, known to audiences from her excellent first season in the televsion series RUSH, is seriously underused in her role as the pregnant wife.
But RED HILL is essentially a masculine film, which is where it connects back to the Westerns it pays hommage to. Women are marginal in this world. When they appear it’s as mothers-to-be or victims. The film is about discovering who is the most powerful man. It’s about the old frontier saying, “A man’s gotta do, what a man’s gotta do.” It’s about drawing your gun first and having the guts to pull the trigger in a just cause.
RED HILL is definitely for audiences who want to see this kind of simple good versus evil conflict back of the big screen. Like other Australian movies of 2010, TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN and THE LOVED ONES for example, it has an impressive marketing campaign and it is looking to hook in as many punters as possible. It’s the opposite of the Aussie arthouse film that nobody wants to see. If this sounds like your cup of tea, or shot of old redeye, then saddle up and head on down to your nearest picture palace, pronto.
RED HILL runs for 95 minutes and is released in Australia today. I rated it 2.5/5