You would think there would be more Australian westerns out there. After all, we’ve got a lot in common with our Aussie brothers. Both of our countries were settled by Englishmen who killed off the majority of the indigenous population, stole their land, started a gold rush and become pretty damn lawless before finally embracing civilization and society, such as it is. We both love the folklore of tough men who extend their lives only by killing first, devour stories of honor and justice. So it’s a bit of a surprise that more westerns haven’t taken advantage of the location. Enter Red Hill, a modern western that’s full of cowboys and guns and cowboys staring down other men with guns in their hands.
In Red Hill, Shane Cooper (True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten) comes to the titular town with his pregnant wife to work at the local police force, a step down from his last job in the big city. He’s looking for a slower, calmer place to maintain a stable family life but is unfortunately not going to find one- not today.
We follow him through an incredibly eventful first day. Just as he’s starting his job, getting used to the leisurely pace and small-town mentality, he’s forced to deal with something that threatens to tear everything apart, for he picked the very day that Jimmy Conway (Tom E. Lewis) breaks out of jail.
Jimmy is a disfigured, savage man who was sent to prison for rape and murder. Thanks to the police force of Red Hill he’s been stewing in jail for the last 15 years and has emerged with nothing but revenge on his mind. The sheriff of the town, Old Bill (Steve Bisley), is fully aware that he’s on his way and that there will be hell to pay, so he rounds up the rest of his force along with a local posse and plans his defense of the town.
It won’t do much good. Jimmy is a force of nature with a shotgun, a mean son of a bitch that will stop at nothing to get to Old Bill. Poor Shane is thrust into the middle of this confrontation, fearing not only for the safety of himself and his family but his newly found duty to the town.
The greatest thing about Red Hill is that while at its core it’s a revenge film, it’s shown from the other side of the coin. It’s rare that we get the chance to meet and get to know to the people who are about to be brutally hunted and murdered by someone who has the perception of having been wronged, but that’s exactly what we get here. Shane is the newcomer who we can relate to that gives us background info on what exactly happened, but his arc is almost a sidebar to the real story here. He does give the film a bit of heart with brief scenes with his wife, but he’s really only here to be our guide to this crazy, seemingly old-fashioned world.
While Red Hill is a revenge film it has its roots deep in revisionist Westerns- where you can only be a good man by becoming a bad man. It’s got everything a fan of the genre could expect: hard men on horseback having shootouts in the middle of town, beautiful yet barren landscapes, a tense wait till an explosion of violence, the bad men getting their due. Thanks to its modern day setting it incorporates a few thing we’re not used to seeing (horseless carriages!) but it’s refreshingly free of technology and modern references. If not for a few things it might also be hard to peg this as an Australian film, but they do allow for a few fun if obvious bits in the film- wait till the boomerang makes an appearance.
Tom E. Lewis really plays a fantastic villain here. His nearly
silent role allows his steely eyes and some incredible burn makeup to
shine, and when he looks at you you’ll feel your soul shudder. He’s
given plenty of incredibly badass scenes to play with, although a couple
are sillier than they were meant to be- the jukebox scene comes to
The film is fairly predictable, hinging on a few story twists that you’ll see coming from the start, but by the end it doesn’t matter. Red Hill is thoroughly entertaining, some incredibly satisfying genre fare.