Red Hill

Director: Patrick Woods
Starring: Steve Bisley, Tommy Lewis and Claire van der Boom
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Runtime: 97 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Strong violence

Bad day at Red Hill.

19th century outback Australia was a frontier which many have compared with the American West. John Hillcoat’s The Proposition (2005) was a striking case in point. Would it be possible to make the same comparisons for anywhere in Australia in the 21st century? Outback, of course. But what about the Victorian high country around Omeo?

Red Hill shows that it can – and uses the conventions of horses, prison escapes, guns and shootouts, along with cars, radio phones, to advantage. It is the work of Patrick Hughes, a first feature which he wrote, produced and directed in only 40 days. For quite an elaborate plot and use of outside locations, this is an achievement and Red Hill was selected for the Berlinale Panorama section and was well reviewed.

The action takes place over a day and a night. It is the first day on the job for Constable Shane Cooper who had transferred from the city to a quiet country town to help the health of his heavily pregnant wife. It all seems very ordinary, especially when he listens to the police chief at a pre-breakfast town meeting bemoaning the changes and the likely death of the town.

Cooper’s first job is to ride a horse to investigate a mauling of stock – allegedly by a rogue panther descended from animals who had escaped from a travelling circus. The panther makes later symbolic appearances.

However, if we had been listening attentively to the incidental television reports at the police station, we would realise that the film is being set up for a confrontation between an escaped prisoner and the local police.

However, the condemned murderer is an aboriginal brumby tracker who was found guilty of killing his pregnant wife and attempting to kill the police chief. So, as now might be expected, it is a bad day at Red Hill, the police mounting a road blockade and then a hunt, Shane confronting Jimmy Conway, the prisoner, High Noon style shootouts in the main street, ambushes and a final showdown.

The aboriginal issue is the question – as might be guessed about a 2010 film. All is not as it might seem and truth will out.

Tom E. Lewis, more than thirty years after he appeared as Jimmy Blacksmith, is once again an iconic aboriginal figure, his face half-scarred by fire, making it like a horror-movie mask. He stands like an outlaw and speaks only one line, just at the end. Thirty years on from riding with Mad Max, Steve Bisley is the hardened police chief. And Ryan Kwanten, into international stardom in TV’s True Blood, is a credible rookie, both naïve and pleasant.

A genre film with an Australian flavour, re-visiting Australian issues.

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