The modern western thriller Red Hill is about the first day on the job for a boyish rookie city cop who relocates to a remote country outpost in Australia’s high country to find some peace and quiet for his pregnant wife. Red Hill is a rugged town right out of Sam Peckinpah that doesn’t appear to have a single female resident, so officer Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten, the dumb, frequently nude vampire-hunting teen throb from HBO’s vampire soap opera True Blood) is pursued instead by depraved citizens and bloodthirsty lunatics who pass themselves off as the law. Violent and scary as it unfolds over the course of one day and night, it keeps the baby-faced new deputy watching his back from start to finish as it recalls the good old days of Hollywood sagebrush sagas like High Plains Drifter and Ride the High Country
On his first day, when Shane loses his weapon and arrives late, the mean-spirited police chief hates the pretty boy from Sydney on sight. Dispatched to investgate a panther attack on local livestock, the action goes into third gear when he comes face to face with the savage Jimmy, an aborigine convicted of rape and murder who has escaped from a maximum security prison six hours away. In one grisly killing after another, Jimmy is hell-bent on wiping out the bigoted sheriff as well as the entire Red Hill police force, but it takes the film’s 95-minute running time to find out why. It turns out there’s a secret reason that he seeks revenge against the cruel, cowardly citizens of Red Hill, furnishing Shane with some lessons in rural justice, police corruption and personal survival he never learned in training camp or dreamed in his worst nightmares. The panther returns, too, but doesn’t hold a fang-toothed candle to the villains of Red Hill.
Nothing fresh or original here, but director-writer Patrick Hughes enjoys a heightened sense of detail, making the most of dark bars and the interiors of stalled vehicles. As the brutal killer with the burned off face, Australian actor Tommy Lewis provides the thrills, while young Mr. Kwanten contributes a fan-magazine face with only peripheral acting chops as the naïve innocent whose integrity makes him a rather callow avenging angel. It’s a Clint Eastwood role that only proves you can’t send a boy to do a man’s job.
Running time 95 minutes
Written and directed by Patrick Hughes
Starring Ryan Kwanten, Steve Bisly, Tommy Lewis