Sony // 2009 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // February 16th, 2011
Revenge just rode into town.
The Aussies bring it with this bad-ass modern Western.
It's the first day on the job for Constable Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten, True Blood) on his new beat: the middle-of-nowhere town of Red Hill. Right away he feels like a stranger in a strange land, ostracized by his peers, looked down upon by his boss and riding a horse to investigate possible panther attacks.
Things get interesting quickly however, when it's learned that Jimmy Conway (Tom Lewis), a man serving time for the murder of his wife, has escaped. Jimmy's got a bone to pick with the dudes of Red Hill and he rolls into town with violence on his mind, trapping Cooper in the crossfire.
Sometimes you just have a feeling about a movie. When this disc showed up on the product review list, I swiped a glance at the cover art, learned that it was a violent crime thriller made in Australia, and leapt at the opportunity to take it for a spin.
My instincts served me well; Red Hill is a taut, vicious piece of filmmaking that surprises and excites from the second our hapless hero sets foot in the sleepy hamlet to the culminating moments when he realizes the full potential of his balls.
Kwanten is the engine that drives this misadventure, and he's terrific. In many ways, his performance reminds me of Ethan Hawke's in Training Day, from the restless idealism to his deference to authority to his cute, pregnant wife. His arc is similar, as he navigates the violence to get to a truth that, frankly, we're all suspecting, though the details manage to still be jarring. Then he cowboys up and that is big fun.
If Kwanten is the heart and soul of Red Hill, Lewis's Jimmy Conway is the clenched fist beating on you until your windpipe collapses. He's a marvelous construction, an unstoppable killing machine hiding a secret that adds another angle to his homicide; he's like the Terminator crossed with Jason Seaver.
The film doesn't take long to get rolling either. The tone is set early on as Cooper struggles to get in the good graces of his superior (Steve Bisley) and shortly after Jimmy's escape is announced and all hell breaks loose. Unfortunately, as engaging a character as Cooper is, he's sort of a dolt early on, refusing to ask simple questions like "Why aren't we calling back-up?" and "Why is everyone so freaked about this guy?" and "Why is the Chief giving high-powered scope rifles to civilians and ordering them to shoot to kill?" That information would have been handy and saved Cooper much heartache and grief later on. This manufactured tension short circuits some of the coolness of the finished product.
But you'll get past it, as I did. I am nearly certain you'll get sucked into the expertly staged Jimmy attacks, shot as if he were a slasher in a horror film; the roll-out of the central mystery's resolution; the metamorphosis of Cooper into Clint Eastwood and a fantastic surprise appearance by a panther.
Sony's Blu-ray is lean, but technically proficient. The 2.40:1 transfer is a looker, and director Patrick Hughes summons up some stunning Australian vistas to blast out to your TV. Picture quality can be grainy, but that's stylistic and the grittiness helps foster the tone. A hugely active 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track works the throwback Western soundtrack nicely and the sound effects are expertly mapped to the discrete channels, producing a truly enveloping experience. No extras though.
A few logical gaffes should not deter you from a rip-roaring trip down under. The Blu-ray is sadly as barren as the outback.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R