Red Rock West is too much of a four-person ensemble film to legitimately be called a Dennis Hopper film, but like the previous year's Deep South drama Paris Trout (1991 / trailer), it is definitely one of most unjustly overlooked films around featuring Denis Hopper in a meaty role. And along with Blood Simple (1984 / trailer), the Hopper-directed The Hot Spot (1990 / trailer), the blackly funny Miami Blues (1990 / trailer), A Simple Plan (1998 / trailer), Bound (1998 / trailer), L.A. Confidential (1997 / trailer), U-Turn (1997 / trailer) and the sci-fi noirs Blade Runner (1982 / trailer) and Dark City (1998 / trailer), Red Rock West is also one of the best neo-noirs of the last quarter of the 20th century. In comparison to all the films named, however, it is undoubtedly the most traditional of the bunch – so traditional, in fact, that it could almost be a parody, only nothing of the wryly funny and suavely serpentine film comes across as burlesque. A post-modern cocktail utilizing all the conceits of the classic age of noir that one knows and loves, Red Rock West nevertheless never feels calculated, needlessly derivative or stupid. It is simply a well-made film knowledgeable of its own roots that is sure to entertain any and all people who happen to chance upon it.
The familiar narrative is of the desperate but basically moral everyman on the skids who, driven either by his desperation or his innate sense of morality, makes one wrong decision after the other and slowly but surely gets sucked into a whirlpool of doom. It is a tale that easily could've bogged in its own mundanity were it not for the smooth and effective direction, the excellent acting of the well-chosen cast, the perfect soundtrack and the many unexpected circumvolutions of the extremely tight script. Red Rock West is pure wowtastic.
But as remarkably interesting and involving as the movie is, John Dahl's second film remains oddly overlooked and forgotten – rather unlike his third film, the idiotic but incredibly well received neo-noir The Last Seduction (1994 / trailer), which actually posits at one point that African American males are eager to show strange white women their wieners just to prove that chocolate lollipops are bigger than vanilla lollipops. That Dahl's third film got all the attention is a typical injustice of film, for in comparison to Red Rock West, The Last Seduction is some lazy filmmaking. (But unarguably not as lazy as John Dahl's follow-up to The Last Seduction, a laughable turkey entitled Unforgettable [1996 / trailer].)
But then, Red Rock West was hardly given the chance to prove itself: originally deemed not worthy of cinematic release by Columbia Tri-Star, the flick ended up becoming a minor art house hit after its initial run on HBO, but though well received in Europe and both on the tube and during its brief and limited screen run in the US, the film was quickly relegated to the lowest video store shelf. A shame, for it is a movie that truly deserves a wider audience — and had it been given a decent chance, it surely would have gotten one.
Michael Williams (played by some guy called Nicolas Cage, who is also found in Lord of War [2005 / trailer], Face/Off [1997 / trailer], Wild at Heart [1990 / trailer], Vampire's Kiss [1988 / trailer] and Raising Arizona [1987 / trailer]), an itinerant, jobless and broke ex-Marine with a bad leg, ends up in the hick town Red Rock, Wyoming, when his last hope for a job dissipates in his face. Having a beer at the local bar, he is mistaken by the bar owner Wayne (J.T. Walsh of Breakdown [1997 / Italian trailer], Black Day Blue Night [1995 / trailer] and Needful Things [1993 / trailer]) as "Lyle from Dallas [...] here for the job"; in hope of work, Michael doesn't correct the false assumption and before long is $5,000 richer and saddled with the job of killing Wayne's wife Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle of Happiness [1998 / trailer], The Road to Wellville [1994 / trailer] and The Dark Backward [1991 / trailer]). Instead of doing the job, Michael warns Suzanne of her husband's intentions; she responds by hiring him to kill Wayne. Pocketing all the money, Michael decides it's a good time to leave town, but try as he might he just can't seem to get out of Red Rock...
To reveal more of the plot would require giving away to many of the unpredictable twists that the narrative takes, for little in the film proves to end up being what it initially seems. But to put it simply, things really get complicated with the arrival of the real hitman Lyle (Dennis Hopper of Basquiat [1996 / trailer], True Romance [1993 / trailer], The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 [1986 / trailer], Rumble Fish [1983 / trailer] and Night Tide [1961 / trailer / full film]) and the budding of romance between Michael and Suzanne.
On one level, it is understandable that Columbia Tri-Star didn't know what to do with this film and dumped it so unceremoniously: Red Rock West is simply to good, too different, too much of an exquisite filmic gem for brainless company men who want their films to be as bland and predictable as Wonder Bread. Next time you go to your local DVD rental, bend down to the lowest shelf and rent this flick – Hey Mikey! You'll like it.