Awry thriller with a keen edge, “Red Rock West” is a sprightly, likable noirish yarn with specialized appeal. The pic, after playing the festival circuit and opening theatrically in U.K. and Germany, has its U.S. preem on HBO.
Centered around a case of mistaken identity, the internecine plot becomes progressively more complex without losing its sense of fun. Essentially a stumblebum, 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 in his vintage Caddy on the promise of a job. But an old knee injury sends him to the sidelines, and in the town of Red Rock he’s presumed to be ahired 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, tries to bail out before things get worse, but things aren’t that easy.
The ping-pong plot, concocted by writer-director John Dahl, is not to be taken seriously or metaphorically.
Though it vaguely resembles a droll Bunuel construction, it owes more to hard-boiled thrillers of the 1940s, albeit with a large tongue-in-cheek quotient.
Cage plays his dumb-guy role with aplomb. He’s as thick-headedly resilient as a cartoon character but manages not to lose audience sympathy. Logically, he’s no match for the icy precision of Walsh or the hair-trigger temper evinced by Dennis Hopper as the gunman who rescues Cage. However, this is deeply rooted in movie reality.
Dahl, who earlier made the slick, steamy “Kill Me Again,” demonstrates an affection and understanding of the genre. His sense of the environment is shrewdly incorporated in the handsomely mounted production.