Young police officer Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten) and his pregnant wife Alice (Claire van der Boom) have relocated from the city to the small country town of Red Hill. He has hardly had his first breakfast on the job when news of murderer Jimmy Conway (Tom E. Lewis) escaping from maximum security sends the local top cop Old Bill (Steve Bisley) and his handful of cops, like his second in charge, Jim Barlow (Kevin Harrington) into an uncharacteristic spin. Payback is mentioned but Shane has no idea for what - until Jimmy does indeed arrive bringing the hell of revenge with him in a prolonged, bloody hunt for his prey. By the dawn of his second day in town, Shane has learnt the cruel truth behind everyone's behaviour and has to step up to the law in ways he never imagined.
Review by Louise Keller:
Simple, yet complex, this striking contempo western about revenge, is an impressive calling card for Patrick Hughes in his writing and directing debut. The concept is clear as the storyline - and Hughes' vision plays out as if in a single breath. The rural Victorian landscapes are arresting, magnifying the remoteness and treachery of the setting. The cool temperatures also play their part and casting an expat Aussie as the protagonist outsider brings its own resonance. It's a great role for Ryan Kwanten as Shane Cooper, the city cop on the first day of his new beat in Red Hill and there's an abundance of irony as we quickly discover the stress-free life Shane promises his pregnant wife (Claire van der Boom), is more remote than the environment.
The establishment of the setting is key and this is done economically and quickly in the first few frames. Then we meet Kwanten's quietly heroic Shane Cooper, who has a moral quandary: his conscience won't allow him to pull the trigger of his gun. Instead of a quiet day in his quiet new environment, he is thrown into the deep end as Jimmy Conway (Tom E. Lewis), convicted, burn-deformed Aboriginal murderer, escapes. 'He'll be bringing hell with him; shoot to kill,' says Steve Bisley's Old Bill. Hell he does bring and he also shoots to kill. Bisley brings gravitas to the role and a welcome complexity. One of the most effective points of difference about the film is the fact that Jimmy doesn't speak. In fact, despite the fact his presence is felt throughout the film, he only utters seven words.
The rugged landscape is used as one of the film's key characters and cinematographer Tim Hudson makes everything look extraordinary. Dmitri Golovko's music too, works a treat and moments such as a guitar twanging as a perfect full moon glides across the dark night sky, makes for movie magic. With great screen presence, Kwanten has a pretty rocky time of it as he falls down a cliff, is stuffed into a boot of a car, gets handcuffed to a farm shed and dodges bullets. The story about good and evil is straight forward enough and the message comes through loud and clear as Hughes directs the action as economically as he has written the script.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The clever thing about Red Hill is how debuting feature filmmaker Patrick Hughes almost overstates the genre - the Western - but manages to make it a positive and useful tool. The dedication to the Western is complete with its marvellously evocative costume and production design, camera positions, shot selection, plot, music, horses - and even the names (Shane, Cooper, Slim, Earl, Rex), in a contemporary Australian country town setting. His holistic vision proves that genre films can take any bending or beating filmmakers dish out as long as they know the basic rules. Hughes knows them well enough to reinvent and recast them on the anvil of Aussie social history. Good call.
Selected for its world premiere at Berlin 2010, Red Hill is rich with Western filmmaking lore, including a pronounced (and wonderfully old fashioned) score by Dmitri Golovko, who makes himself noticed from the very first entrance cue of clangs and expectant vibes. Wailing trumpets are not far behind.
But let's get to the story; this is classic Western fare about a stranger coming to a small town, having to try and fit in yet stay true to himself. But this one's not a loner, he has a pregnant wife. And he's not running away from the city, but being considerate of his wife's condition. So we have the makings of a classic hero; strong but sensitive, even a bit naive. Ryan Kwanten does it well; so does lovely Claire van der Boom making the most of her limited screen time as his pregnant wife Alice.
Steve Bisley is the star though, complete with a drooping Wild Bill Hickok moustache above a brittle goatee, a wide brimmed hat rammed down his forehead and attitude oozing from every pore. He is Old Bill, the top cop of the town and intends to run things how he always has; with an eye on his self interests. He isn't impressed by city cops and holds Ryan Kwanten's Shane in disdain.
Tom E. Lewis (of The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith  fame) who plays another badly done by Jimmy, has just one line of dialogue, but it's memorable. The rest of the film he lets his guns, spear and boomerang do the talking. A powerful presence, his long coat is typical of the old Westerns, his silent hunting ability the equal of an Eastwood.
The theme of revenge is dressed in the robes of justice, and we are gradually drawn to Jimmy's point of view and finally call it retribution. The film doesn't pretend to be a moral sermon, but like all good Westerns, it has a heart and a soul so we have something to hook onto amidst the thrills of the chase and the gunplay.
The film isn't perfect but it gets the all-important things right. Striking images are scattered throughout, referencing old masters but doing it with a freshness, such as the final montage, where the posed characters in silhouette emphasise our hero's moral clarity.
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PATRICK HUGHES INTERVIEW
INSPIRED BY OMEO
RED HILL (MA)
CAST: Steve Bisley, Ryan Kwanten, Tom E. Lewis, Claire van der Boom, Christopher Davis, Kevin Harrington, Richard Sutherland, Ken Radley, John Brumpton, Cliff Ellen, Jim Daly
PRODUCER: Patrick Hughes, Al Clark
DIRECTOR: Patrick Hughes
SCRIPT: Patrick Hughes
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tim Hudson
EDITOR: Patrick Hughes
MUSIC: Dmitri Golovko
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Enzo Iacono
OTHER: Nicola Dunn (costumes)
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 25, 2010