Film Review: Red Rock West (1993)

Release Date: May 14th, 1993 (Italy)
Directed by: John Dahl
Written by: John Dahl, Rick Dahl
Music by: William Olvis
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper, Lara Flynn Boyle, Timothy Carhart, J. T. Walsh, Dwight Yoakam, Robert Apel

PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Propaganda Films, Roxie Releasing, 98 Minutes

Review:

“You must be Suzanne. You look pretty enough to eat.” – Lyle

John Dahl started out making neo-noir films in the late ’80s and early ’90s. This was the second one of three and comparing it to its predecessor, Kill Me Again, I’d say that the films are very consistent.

Two of the most intense actors of the last few decades, Nicolas Cage and Dennis Hopper, face off in this film and man, it is really entertaining to watch.

These are my favorite types of roles for Dennis Hopper. I love it when he’s a murderous psycho or just a twisted bastard in a neo-noir cinemascape. It is hard to watch him here and not have your mind make connections to his roles in The American Friend and Blue Velvet.

I thought the cast in this was pretty good, other than Lara Flynn Boyle. I’ve never really been keen on her, even though I know she was popular with a lot of filmgoers and Twin Peaks fans at the time. She just doesn’t work as a noir-esque femme fatale for me. I can’t really peg why but when I compare her to Joanne Whalley’s femme fatale in Dahl’s Kill Me Again, there is no comparisson. Whalley nailed the role, Boyle didn’t. Also, Whalley looked like a goddess, Boyle looked like a small town mayor’s wife. Sure, that may seem incredibly superficial but this is a femme fatale we’re talking about. The trope is the trope and here it wasn’t convincing.

Red Rock West seems a bit more refined than Dahl’s previous picture but I preferred the story of the first one better. This excels because of the scenes with Cage and Hopper playing off of one another. While I thought Val Kilmer and Michael Madsen also had a good rivalry in Kill Me Again, the two male leads here take the cake.

Overall, the two films are very similar and pretty much equal. Where one lacks, the other gains. It’s almost as if you could cherry pick the good bits of each and make one incredible movie out of them.

I can’t yet compare these two films to Dahl’s The Last Seduction, as I haven’t seen it yet. But it is on the docket and I’ll probably review it very soon.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: John Dahl’s other neo-noir films: Kill Me Again and The Last Seduction.

 

Film Review: Kill Me Again (1989)

Release Date: October 27th, 1989
Directed by: John Dahl
Written by: John Dahl, Rick Dahl
Music by: William Olvis
Cast: Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Michael Madsen, Jonathan Gries

Incorporated Television Company (ITC), PolyGram Movies, Propaganda Films, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 94 Minutes

Review:

John Dahl started his career out on a pretty good foot with his directorial debut, Kill Me Again. It is a part of his first three motion pictures that I consider a trilogy. While they aren’t a linked story, all three of those films share a common thread, they are modern noir pictures – two of which take place in the American southwest with the other taking place in New York. The other two films are Red Rock West and The Last Seduction.

Kill Me Again is the weakest of the three but it is still a pretty solid crime thriller with a good cast.

Most of the acting duties fall on the then married Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley-Kilmer. Their chemistry is pretty uncanny, just as it was when it was first seen in the George Lucas and Ron Howard fantasy epic Willow.

Michael Madsen plays a psychotic criminal similar to his role a few years later as Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs. In fact, after seeing this, I’m pretty sure that it was his work in this picture that got him that more iconic part. Also drawing comparisons to Mr. Blonde, Madsen violently tortures a man strapped to a chair in this film. That man is Jonathan Gries, by the way, an accomplished actor but still probably most famous as Uncle Rico in Napolean Dynamite.

The story of Kill Me Again isn’t anything a noir fan hasn’t seen before but it is a good homage to those great old classic tales that featured femme fatales, deception, conspiracy, greed and murder. In this picture, Faye (Whalley) and her abusive boyfriend Vince (Madsen) rob a mobster transporting a briefcase full of $850,000 in cash. Faye then turns on Vince, knocking him out in a gas station bathroom. She escapes with the money and seeks out a P.I. named Jack (Kilmer) to help her fake her death. Of course, Faye also double crosses Jack and we get a dysfunctional love triangle where the femme fatale is playing both sides against one another while trying to escape the mob, who are in pursuit of the stolen money.

The film isn’t long and it speeds along pretty quickly, as every scene is pretty pivotal to the plot and advances things forward at a swift pace while still developing the characters and exploring their relationships and inability to trust one another.

Although the ending wasn’t that satisfying and was sort of a quick and simple way to wrap things up, the film doesn’t suffer because of it. All the suspense and tension were really well managed. You never once think that anyone isn’t really out for themselves and they are all fairly deplorable characters but the actors played the roles quite well and kept you engaged in the story.

Dahl’s work would improve after this but for a debut film, he certainly created something better than most directors’ rookie pictures. Plus, he was able to assemble a good cast that made the material come alive.