[REVIEW] Red Hill (2010) – ManlyMovie

[REVIEW] Red Hill (2010)

 95 min
Rated: R
What To Expect: A very strong debut for Patrick Hughes which makes Expendables 3 look even worse.

A completely badass Australian western, Red Hill further demonstrates that Aussie filmmakers are capable of producing top-tier films on low budgets that put large Hollywood productions to shame. It’s on the same level as other acclaimed Aussie gems like The Proposition and Animal Kingdom, with writer-director Patrick Hughes fashioning a hard-noised, suspenseful old-fashioned thriller that pays loving tribute to such old masters as John Carpenter and Sergio Leone, while also developing a unique identity of its own by using rural Australia instead of the vast deserts of the United States. Red Hill never reinvents the wheel, but Hughes trots out the clichés with a sure filmmaking hand, confidently pulling together a gritty, proficient B-movie that’s viciously violent and consistently entertaining.

A city boy, young police constable Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten) relocates to the tiny rural town of Red Hill in order to reduce the stress of his wife’s pregnancy. Cooper optimistically approaches his first day on the job, but the local sheriff, Old Bill (Steve Bisley), has no patience for the young man, giving him a tough time. Word soon spreads to the precinct that disfigured Aboriginal outlaw Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis) has broken out of prison, and his first port of call will no doubt be Red Hill to visit the police officers who put him behind bars. Pulling in armed civilians and his entire police force, Old Bill scrambles to protect the town from the bloodthirsty killer headed their way. Cooper soon comes face to face with the vengeful brute, who spares his life but is not so kind to the other police officers, killing them off one-by-one.

Red Hill plays out as a modern-day western, with Hughes situating narrative tropes associated with the genre into a rural Australian setting. It’s a simple idea, but it has plenty of mileage, particularly because Hughes takes the story in unexpected directions. As a matter off fact, the film looks to be losing steam at around the 60-minute mark, only for Hughes to drop a few revelations, paving the way for a stunning ending. Moreover, Red Hill is an emotionally-charged story, displaying interest in character development that doesn’t merely come off as perfunctory. Cooper’s wife seems like a shallow device to give him depth, but it actually feeds into the story in a profound way. Although none of the characters here are original, Hughes imbues them with complexity; even the ostensible villains of the tale are not as cut-and-dried as they seem. Red Hill does stumble at times (there’s a subplot involving a panther that gets a little goofy, some of the firearm accuracy is skewiff, and at times people hesitate to shoot for no reason other than convenience), but Hughes keeps the picture afloat nevertheless, getting a lot more right than wrong.

Making his feature film debut after a string of shorts, Hughes assembles Red Hill with care and patience, telling this ostensibly simple story with plenty of thought towards mood and pacing. There is an overriding sense of tension to the enterprise that’s suffocating at times, with a number of gut-wrenchingly intense scenes that kept this reviewer squirming on the edge of his seat. This is a testament not just to Hughes’ abilities as a craftsman (he edited the film as well), but also to his skills as a storyteller; it’s possible to become invested in this atmospheric tale, and feel attached to the characters, breathlessly watching to see what will happen to them next. Tim Hudson’s lavish cinematography is impressive as well, making great use of the sprawling Australian landscapes and the small-town locales that imbue Red Hill with flavour and atmosphere. And while Hughes gives the flick a serious, gritty tone, there is also a sense of playfulness underneath, preventing the film from devolving into a dour drag. The tiny budget is evident at times, but Red Hill is a stylish movie for the most part, benefitting from a strong sense of vision.

Ryan Kwanten is not the first name that one thinks of to play an action hero, as his work in television shows like True Blood and Home & Away portray him as more of a pretty boy than anything substantive. But Kwanten is perfect as Shane Cooper, showing genuine range as he creates a protagonist who’s instantly worthy of our empathy. He’s smart, sensitive, mature and nuanced, and never feels the need to take off his shirt. Moreover, Kwanten effortlessly sells Cooper’s transition from clueless to heroic. Equally excellent is support work from Mad Max actor Steve Bisley, who makes for an entirely believable old police chief with more to his character than what meets the eye. Most of the other roles are pretty one-note, but Tommy Lewis deserves major plaudits for his mute portrayal of Jimmy Conway.

To be sure, Red Hill packs a fair amount of clichés, but this is a rare type of film which makes the clichés work, resulting in a surprisingly rich, emotional experience that deserves a wide audience. Hughes is definitely a talent to watch, as the film benefits from its smart pacing and an array of action sequences that are more viscerally exciting than the majority of Hollywood’s output.



  1. Saverio

    May 27, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    I own this film and yes it is a real good one.

  2. Mucho Macho

    May 27, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    I have yet not seen this movie.
    However let me state the following.
    i don’t blame Patrick Hughes for taking the Expendables gig. I mean what action movie fan would not love to be around such legends?! Watching ‘Ex3 unrated cut” the last half hour feature some kick ass action at times. The problem was that we didn’t care about those performing the action. We didnt care about the new male vagina recruits.
    The movie should have been like the van scene between Gibson & Stallone. Meaning with that tone & action legends.
    Hughes got a huge opportunity but u could tell he was being told what to do all the time. Had him been given more freedom & of course more of an adult theme , who knows what he could have done?!

    • AlTeo

      May 28, 2015 at 12:40 am

      I saw this on Netflix, pretty fuckin’ sweet movie, bro. A bit of a slow start but after 20 minutes all hell breaks loose and this turns into a darn good Western that’s part Walter Hill and as Pvt. mentioned, part John Carpenter. After this I thought Hughes will kill it in Expendables, but, well…

      I’d still give Hughes a shot though, providing he gets full artistic control. The EX3 unrated cut, despite the young bozos, had some pretty sweet action moments that were butchered in the theatrical, including some god awful post-production shaky cam.

      • Mucho Macho

        May 28, 2015 at 1:11 am

        Thanx Bro i didn’t know this was streaming on Netflix. I’ll try to check it out as soon as i can.
        agree with u regarding “Ex3”.
        Hopefully Hughes’s next project will be better & hopefully he’ll have more control

    • Cal

      May 28, 2015 at 4:05 am

      Oh I absolutely agree, Hughes did what he could with the material. But he was just a puppet on a producer’s movie.

      I remember watching this movie and having such high hopes for EX3… Hoping that it would be an auteur effort with Hughes introducing ultra-violence and nail-biting tension.

      It’s a shame that Hughes’ name is attached to EX3, cause people are gonna hate on him for it, and it wasn’t the type of success that gets you into the big league.

      • Mucho Macho

        May 28, 2015 at 4:49 am

        Agree Cal
        but hopefully he’ll get a chance to do his thing & “Ex3” won’t be held against him.
        time will tell..
        time will tell.
        fingers crossed

  3. Jacob Phillips

    May 28, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    Thank God for Australia, they’ve been providing a steady stream of quality alternative, or in other words, decent, films for a while now, not to mention the classics like Mad Max. Fancied this one for a while now. The Proposition really kicks ass.