MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Red Rock West’: An Honest, Stylishly Likable Film Noir


John Dahl’s terrific film noir “Red Rock West” brings to mind the Coen brothers’ “Blood Simple,” Carl Colpaert’s “Delusion” and his own “Kill Me Again” in its clever plotting and wide-open-spaces setting.

It’s also got an admirable something more: a concern for decency, embodied by Nicolas Cage’s entirely likable Michael. He’s so honest that when a friend helps him line up a job as an oil-rigger in Wyoming, he blows the chance by admitting that he’s got a game leg. When stopping for gas in his seedy old Cadillac, he resists reaching into an open till for some much-needed cash.

Temptation a third time around, however, is not exactly a charm. Landing in the tiny Wyoming burg of Red Rock, he heads for the local saloon whose proprietor (J.T. Walsh) promptly mistakes him for a Dallas hit man, hired to rub out his pretty, much younger wife, Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle). While it’s plain to see that Michael is not about to kill anybody, he’s in such a moment of weakness he can no more resist taking the money any more than he can resist Suzanne’s offer to double her husband’s fee if he spares her.


Dahl and his co-writer brother, Rick, are endlessly imaginative in coming up with escalating plot twists and turns, but each convolution not only heightens suspense but also reveals character.

“Red Rock West,” which was rescued from cable through the efforts of San Francisco exhibitor Bill Banning, may be a classic B-picture, but it has an A-cast, which includes Dennis Hopper as a sly, witty Texan, a man in well-tailored all-black Western duds whose folksy drawl proves dangerously disarming.

Cage’s naturalness as a nice guy in a big jam lends the film considerable substance while Hopper’s wily foil, Boyle’s tough dame and Walsh’s minor-league baddie provide much amusement. With Mark Reshovsky’s sleek camera work, authentic locales and William Olvis’ mood-setting score, “Red Rock West” has style to burn.

* MPAA rating: Unrated. Times guidelines: It contains adult themes, much coarse language, and complicated narrative structure. ‘Red Rock West’

Nicolas Cage: Michael

Dennis Hopper: Lyle

Lara Flynn Boyle: Suzanne

J.T. Walsh: Wayne

A Polygram Filmed Entertainment presentation of Propaganda Films production. Writer-director John Dahl. Producers Sigurjon Sighvatsson, Steve Golin. Executive producers Michael Kuhn, Janie McCann. Writer/associate producer Rick Dahl. Cinematographer Mark Reshovsky. Editor Scott Chestnut. Costumes Terry Dresbach. Music William Olvis. Production designer Rob Pearson. Art director Don Diers. Sound Mark Deren. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

* In limited release at the Sunset 5, Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights, West Hollywood. (213) 848-3500.