“Revenge, at first though sweet, bitter, ere long, back on itself recoils” - John Milton
We watched the 2010 Patrick Hughes film “Red Hill” yesterday, an Australian film which he produced as well as wrote the screenplay for. So it is very much his own film! It starred Ryan Kwanten, Steve Bisley and Tommy Lewis and one could call the film an action thriller, although some would even call it a “Meat Pie Western” (viz: Australian Western ;-). Although he film has flaws and is riddled with clichés, for the most part we enjoyed watching it despite some gratuitous violence, which was included to appeal to the younger market, I guess.
The plot centres on Shane Cooper (Kwanten), a young police constable, who must survive his first day’s duty in a small Australian highland country town. The town is immediately attacked by an escaped Aboriginal convict (Lewis) and who appears to have a grudge against the local police officers and their clique amongst the townspeople. Bisley plays the tough Chief Inspector of the town, “Old Bill” who appears self-assured and confident and runs the town according to his own laws. Cooper’s pregnant young wife (Claire van der Boom) provides a vague romantic interest, but this is most definitely a dick flick.
The film definitely pays homage to the Western genre and Hughes obviously understands this genre and delights in transporting to the Australia countryside and putting in a modern context. The main characters, Kwanten, Bisley and Lewis, make the film and they are all very competent in their roles. However, the supporting characters are rather shallow and provide fodder for the convict’s vengeful rampage. Hughes doesn’t offer much exposition in any of his characters, but still manages to propel the film forward interposing action shots with the more contemplative scenes. Steve Bisley is excellent in his role and a pleasure to watch, stealing most of the scenes with his personality and great acting ability. Lewis hardly utters a word, yet succeeds in making us feel the menace and brutality that his role has to exude. Kwanten plays a vulnerable “hero”, who is at times silly, weak, resourceful, green and scared. He is the most human of the characters and the one most viewers would identify with.
The cinematography and music (by Dmitri Golovko) are excellent and the overall mood of the film sets the right tone for the action. It is violent, often gratuitously so, and the plot has many holes, especially of the type: “She knows the monster is in the alley and she knows that she can’t defend herself, so why does she decide to go into the alley and confront the monster – and ends up getting killed?”… If we judge “Red Hill” as a ‘serious’ film, it will not score too many point. However, Hughes doesn’t take the film seriously and knows he is aiming to entertain. His direction is competent and his script has intelligence at its core and there is some poignancy and pathos there too. However, pandering to the market in order to make the film sell diminishes its overall value.
It still is worthwhile watching this film, negative points notwithstanding. While it is not up to the standard of the Coen Brothers’ “No Country For Old Men” it is an engaging film and it does make a point about attitudes and prejudices of our society. It just falls short of being a classic as it is not original enough. Nor is it a copy, but rather a mélange of many and none. If you watch it, be warned there are some violent and fairly gruesome scenes in it. The only thing that made me laugh was the panther, although it was a good-humoured laugh and I forgave Hughes for his rather heavy-handed attempt at deeper symbolism…