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Ben Austwick [Film Festival 08.31.10] Australia movie review thriller crime

Year: 2010
Directors: Patrick Hughes
Writers: Patrick Hughes
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Ben Austwick
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Australian cinema is usually associated with superficially entertaining genres like comedy and horror rather than anything that runs a bit deeper, and at first Red Hill, which presents itself as a Western of wisecracking rednecks and blistering shootouts, seems to be the usual breezy fare. But an about-turn that sucker punches you at around the half way mark adds layers of meaning, propelling the film to a conclusion as emotional as it is powerful.

Shane Cooper is a young city policeman moving to a new post in the outback town of Red Hill with his pregnant wife, his open, friendly demeanour met with the gruff and downright rude attitude of his new colleagues. Old Bill, the local police chief, doesn't like the new city boy and doesn't mind if he knows it, his terse putdowns showcasing some gloriously dry Ozzie humour. To break him in he sends him off on a horse to investigate some dead cattle, and while Shane struggles to control the unfamiliar animal you settle in for a gentle, undemanding western.

All this changes with the TV announcement that police killer Jimmy Conway, a local man, has broken out of prison. Old Bill has no doubts that he will be heading back to Red Hill, and dispatches his men to strategic points around the town. Jimmy Conway is a fearsome opponent, an expert tracker more than a match for Old Bill's posse, who he picks off in some brilliantly tense shoot-outs. Shane in particular is ill prepared, his city training and liberal attitude practically useless in the circumstances.

This is where Red Hill's neat twist comes in to play, a clever surprise set up by some subtle writing that convinced the viewer of a suddenly blatant falsehood. The psychology behind it reminded me of the famous Milgram Experiment, where subjects obeying authority will blindly proceed to inflict cruelties outside all normal moral boundaries. Watching Red Hill you might even feel a little guilty about how easily you were led along.

In the end Red Hill isn't just a thrillingly violent western - though it fulfils this role with ease - but also a powerful morality tale that looks not only at Australia's bloody history but our own weaknesses as well. Its message, cleverly expressed though slight-of-hand direction, is that we are all capable of doing wrong and sometimes it takes inner strength and self-belief to be right. It's a maturity all the more surprising for the fast-paced action around it, in a movie that more than deserves to break into the mainstream.

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