Western film smartly uses classic shows as influences

Alex Williams

“Red Hill,” written and directed by freshman director Patrick Hughes, is a film obviously influenced by classic westerns. After all, its main character, played perfectly by “True Blood’s” Ryan Kwanten, is named Shane Cooper, an amalgam of the titular character of the 1953 Western classic “Shane,” and “High Noon” star Gary Cooper. It wears its influences proudly on its sleeve, making for a fun, superbly acted action film.

The film begins with a retro setup: It’s Cooper’s first day on the job at the Red Hill Police Department, an isolated Australian precinct. When Jimmy Conway (the magnetic Tommy Lewis), a man with a grudge for Red Hill’s police department, escapes from prison and returns to exact his revenge, things get messy very quickly and in a very entertaining fashion.

“Red Hill” is a deliberate film, taking its time setting up its stakes and characters before letting Conway sweep through the city raising hell. In fact, almost half an hour passes before we meet the antagonist in a subtly effective scene. However, the payoff is more than worth it, as the hour that follows is intense, atmospheric and sublimely directed. Hughes plays fast and loose with the structure of the classic Western, mixing in a few moments of quiet beauty with the abundance of shoot-outs and standoffs.

Lewis is fantastic as Conway, silent, imposing and unquestionably lethal. Conway almost comes off as a slasher-flick menace, with a horribly scarred face and a superhuman ability to outthink his prey. Kwanten is equally great, effortlessly slipping into his stoic western hero and playing things cool and understated. While the rest of the supporting cast is composed of cannon fodder more than characters, the acting is strong across the board.

Entertaining above all else, “Red Hill” is a treat for fans of the Western genre that have found themselves shortchanged this year. It’s an entertaining, blood-soaked ride and a smart, noteworthy debut for Hughes.

Grade: B

Playing exclusively at the Regal Arbor Cinema at Great Hills