$2.00 ticket on a scale of $0 to $13.50.
Even by the standards of Australian cinema, “Red Hill,” written, directed, and edited by Patrick Hughes who shares producer credit with Tim Hudson, is an ant hill. Fortunately for auds this formulaic effort runs only 95 minutes.
Plot is fairly simple. An urban policeman, Shane Cooper played by Ryan Kwanten has been transferred to the rural town of Red Hill as a new constable. It’s almost a one-horse town — it might as well be thanks to the mare (Lucy) who steals all her scenes. And Red Hill looks a lot like any number of Hollywood sets from the “Gunsmoke” era despite being set in the present. In other words, while it is billed as a crime thriller, it is at the same time a western. In exposition it is revealed that Cooper requested the transfer due to medical advice: His wife, played by the very attractive and underused Claire van der Boom, is far along in her second pregnancy after losing her first, doctors say, due to the stress of urban life on her blood pressure. It’s a flimsy and incredible premise. At her stage of pregnancy there is almost no danger of losing a baby. But in that regard it is consistent with the rest of pic’s plot. Unlike his rural colleagues, Cooper is not quick on the trigger, a fact that has its upside as well as downside.
The opening shot is of a house on fire. The day Cooper arrives for his new assignment, a jailbreak takes place from a maximum security prison. The fire is a bit of a clumsy clue to pic’s denouement. The news of the jailbreak, first heard on the TV, is a bit like the shot of the gun over the mantle. Sooner or later it has to be fired. The cophouse is run by an inspector known as Old Bill, played by Steve Bisley, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the late director Robert Altman. He rises above the material. Cooper fails to make a good first impression.
A herd of horses allegedly stampeded by a panther, an animal not indigenous to Australia, is an excuse for pic’s only buddy flick element — the buds are Cooper and Lucy, the horse. There is a bit of legend at work here. Some believe that there are no panthers in Oz. Others think that a pair of panthers got loose in the 1880s from a circus act and made pantherettes. One of those is the horses’ owner, Gleason, convincingly acted by Cliff Ellen, who provides the answers to pic’s questions.
Within 30 minutes the jailbreak takes over the plot. A certain Jimmy, an aboriginal who has half his face covered by burn scars, has got out. He’s serving a life sentence for the 1995 murder of his wife and attempted murder of a local policeman.
That news electrifies the local cophouse. Old Bill is certain that Jimmy is headed their way. So are the local veteran cops. Call this clue number two. Clue number three is that Old Bill refuses backup.
When Jimmy (played by Tommy Lewis) finally makes it on screen he’s like a Paul Kersey of the Death Wish series (Charles Bronson). He utters not a word. He shoots with deadly accuracy, and despite 15 years behind bars, he’s a better shot than the cops. In his first encounter with Cooper, the latter surrenders in a standoff. He lives to tell about it. If he didn’t, there would be no picture. Jimmy soon goes on a killing spree. Red Hill cops are the targets. To make matters worse, this guy who has spent 15 years in maximum security knows how to disable 21st century law enforcement communications. Oh, please! Australia has traffic cameras on the motorways. Speeding tickets are given routinely to people whom the cops never see except on camera. Give me a break!
Eventually, the backstory is revealed by Gleason, in a marvelous scene at the end of which he hangs himself. It is a story of murderous corruption on the police force, and it ends with an unexpected parallel between Constable Shane Cooper and Jimmy — who finally utters a sentence in the final reel, having achieved his revenge. At that point, despite the arrival of a police SWAT team as a sort of dues ex machina, Cooper finally finds his mojo. The question is, “Whom does he shoot?”
Tech credits are adequate. Lensing by Dmitri Golovko is up to par. Editing is not self-indulgent. Enzo Iacono’s set design won’t win an Oscar, but it works. It’s the material that is littered with barnyard fertilizer. “Red Hill” is just not a compelling story. Despite a firm hand directing, Hughes has no one to blame but himself. Pic’s most sympathetic character is Lucy, the mare. It seems Hughes bit off a tad more than he could chew combining four jobs into one. Even at the height of the Second World War Winston Churchill served only as British Prime Minister and Minister of Defense and was backed up by Labour Party leader Clement Atlee as Deputy Prime Minister. In short, if it were not for the silly storyline and the woefully poor character development, “Red Hill” may have earned an additional star. It might even have been acceptable.
“Red Hill” is rated R, most likely for violence and language. All the sex is in flashback, and none of it is explicit, a credit to Hughes who gets his prurient points across in dialogue rather than in pictures. Don’t take the kids. They won’t understand. In fact, don’t go at all. You’d be wasting your money.
–30–Red Hill on Netflix