A wry thriller with a keen edge, Red Rock West is a sprightly, likable noirish yarn. Centered on a case of mistaken identity, the internecine plot becomes progressively more complex without losing its sense of fun. Essentially a bumbler, Michael (Nicolas Cage) finds himself in a nest of vipers and only through dumb luck manages to elude getting bitten.
Michael has headed to the oil fields of Wyoming on the promise of a job. In the town of Red Rock he’s presumed to be a hired gun commissioned to rub out the wife of a local barkeep.
The saloon owner, Wayne (J.T. Walsh), wafts the long green in front of Michael’s nose, and the near destitute man takes a deep whiff. Playing along for a moment, he confronts the woman (Lara Flynn Boyle) only to have the original offer doubled. He grabs it but decides to bail out before things get worse. Of course, nothing’s that easy.
The ping-pong plot, concocted by writer-director John Dahl, is not to be taken seriously or metaphorically. It owes more to hard-boiled thrillers of the 1940s, albeit with a very large tongue-in-cheek quotient. Dahl, who earlier made the slick, steamy Kill Me Again, demonstrates an affection and understanding of the genre.