Red Rock West: John Dahl’s Quirky Noir Western, Starring Nicolas Cage

John Dahl’s second (and better film) Red Rock West, is a quirky, low-budget “western noir” or “noir western.”

With the assist of a fresh script, co-written with brother Rick, Dahl rounded up a quintessentially indie cast: Nicolas Cage (before he became star), Lara Flynn Boyle, J.T. Walsh–and the ubiquitous enfant terrible, Dennis Hopper. Sizzling with taut suspense, Red Rock West is an intelligent thriller boasting eccentric performances and picaresque Southwest American sights. Recalling Blood Simple and the small-town malevolence of Lynch’s Blue Velvet, the film is an edgy trip into the dark side of the American heartland.

Michael Williams (Cage) drives into Wyoming eager to find a well-paying oil job. When the rigging work, which was offered by an ex-marine buddy, falls through, he drives away unemployed and broke to Red Rock. At the local bar, owner Wayne Brown (Walsh) mistakes Michael for Lyle, a Texas hitman he had hired to “take care” of his wife Suzanne (Boyle). Before Michael realizes what’s happening, and with no intention of killing anyone, he has accepted a $500 down payment. Driving to Wayne’s house, he warns Suzanne of the impending danger and she puts another $10,000 in his hand.

A bumbling ordinary guy, Michael is neither corrupt nor greedy but simply cursed with bad luck and bad timing. A twisty tale of mistaken identities and hidden personalities follows, constantly shifting expectations to the point where the audience is not sure who’s to be trusted. A series of incidents keep Michael in town, and the arrival of the actual hitman (Hopper) gets him more deeply involved in Wayne’s schemes.

With a wacky but resourceful fall guy (masterly played by Cage) at its center, Red Rock West’s script unfolds as a blend of greed, betrayal, and revenge. The casting and music echo David Lynch, but Dahl provides a more conventional noir entertainment, proving that he is a strong actors’ director, able to get Dennis Hopper (in a caricature of America’s worst nightmare) and J.T. Walsh to modulate their natural flamboyance, though the usually placid Lara Flynn Boyle is miscast as a deceitful femme fatale.

Cast:

Nicolas Cage (Michael)
Dennis Hopper (Lyle)
Lara Flynn Boyle (Suzanne)
J. T .Walsh (Wayne)
Timothy Carhart (Deputy Greytack)
Dan Shor (Depty Bowman)
Dwight Yoakam (truck driver)
Bobby Joe McFadden (Old Man)

Credits

A Polygram Filmed Entertainment presentation of a Propaganda Films production
Directed by John Dahl
Produced by Sigurjon Sighvatsson and Steve Golin.
Screenplay: John Dahl
Camera: Mark Reshovsky
Editing: Scott Chestnut
Music: William Orvis
Art Design: Rob Pearson
Costumes: Terry Dresbach

Running Time: 97 Minutes