Red Rock West (1993) : The Noir Cowboy [Mike’s Review]
Today on Cage Club we go looking for work in Red Rock West. After two comedies in a row Cage is back in a dramatic role. This is another first time viewing for me although as a teen I’ve caught parts of this on HBO. The movie is a considered a Modern Western and establishes it’s ties to the genre with locations like a one horse town and the ranch, as well as the iconic drifter character played here by Nic Cage. The movie is also considered a Neo Noir, adopting the style and themes from classic Noir films of the 40’s like the Femme Fatal, the wrong man and the double cross. All of this combines to make a engaging, well paced mystery I would consider to be one of my favorite Cage Club movies yet.
Cage plays Michael Williams, the modern cowboy. He’s an honest drifter from Texas looking for work in Wyoming. When he’s denied a job because his war injury makes him a liability, Michael heads to the small town of Red Rock in the middle of nowhere where he heard there may be work. When he arrives he’s mistaken for a man named “Lyle from Dallas ” by the bartender Wayne when he inquires about a job. Out of desperation, Michael pretends to be Lyle and accepts Wayne’s proposal to murder his wife, Suzanne, for 10 G’s. Michael goes to the Ranch where Suzanne lives but tells her about the plot instead of committing the deed. She hires Michael to kill Wayne, but he decides to write a letter to the local cops informing them of all this, then high tails it outta Red Rock, cleaning his hands of the matter, or so he thought. The thing about Red Rock is you can’t just up and leave that easy. On his way out of town Michael hits a pedestrian with his car that was broken down on the side of the road. It’s a dark and stormy night and Michael didn’t see the guy jump out into the middle of the street to get his attention, I mean who runs into he middle of the road to get a car to stop anyway? Always the good samaritan, Micahel returns to Red Rock and drops the guy at a hospital where he runs into the Sheriff who happens to be…. Wayne, the man who hired him to kill his wife! Wayne takes Michael to the outskirts of Red Rock with the intent to kill him but Mike’s military training and survival instincts kick in and he escapes. Mike meets up with the real Lyle from Dallas played by Dennis Hopper (previous Cage Club entry Rumble Fish) and is brought back to Red Rock for a beer at Wayne’s Bar. Mike reluctantly agrees then slips out the bathroom window, eluding Lyle and Wayne before they figure out what’s happening. Michael makes his way back to the Ranch to warn Suzanne about “real” Lyle who’s suddenly at the ranch too ready to do his job. Mike and Suzanne escape again and lay low at the Comfort Inn. After they compromise the night away, Sue convinces Mike to rob Wayne before leaving town for good, so it’s back to Red Rock again. There is no escape! It’s revealed that Wayne and Suzanne are wanted by the FBI and came to the ghost town of Red Rock to hide out. Now that their cover is blown, Lyle holds everyone hostage and blackmails Wayne until they take him to the money so he can claim it all and kill everyone. Wayne leads him to a graveyard where the shit goes down, for real. Wayne uncovers the dough but his greed is too much and he pulls a gun on Lyle, but Lyle is a wily cat and was ready to be double crossed. Lyle throws his knife into Wayne’s neck and it’s lights out for him. Mike and Lyle tussle to the death and luckily it’s Lyle who ends up taking the dirt nap, permanently. Mike and Sue race the train and hop onto the boxcar as the cops pursue and it looks like a clean getaway until Suzanne had to go and get too greedy also. She demands Mike hand over the sack of cash or else get some serious lead poisoning. Mike calls her bluff and lucky for him, Suzanne’s out of bullets. She used them all up when she helped to kill Lyle from Dallas. Mike tosses the money away then throws Suzanne off the train for the cops to collect. Michael sits back and closes his eyes, finally ready for some well deserved peace and quiet as the train takes him out of Red Rock for good.
I really dig this movie, it was such an unexpected surprise. I picked up on the Noir elements before the Western ones but it’s really great how well the two genre fit together, especially in the modern day. Cage and Hopper have a really nice good vs evil thing going on. Cage personifies the just and right in his blue denim and white shirt, while Hopper as Lyle represents death decked out all in black. You may even say the cars equal horses and all the attention to gassing them up parallels needing to feed and water your steed from time to time. The imagery of the Train as Iron Horse even comes into play near the end. On the Noir side of things I felt Laura Flynn Boyle made for a really great Femme Fatal, growing more dangerous by the scene and waiting until the finale to reveal just how despicable she is. The idea of the murder for hire, specifically wanting to off your spouse, strikes me as especially Noir in sensibility and contrivance. For me, this movie shows how close the sensibilities of Westerns & Noir films are and that they can go together like peanut butter and jelly if the people involved know what they are doing. In this case, John Dahl is in his element as far as I can tell, pulling this off with the finest of a magic trick.
That does it for another day at the Cage Club. I really enjoy this movie and put it at the top of my re-watch list. If you enjoyed Red Rock West than I would recommend Blood Simple by the Cohn Brothers, makers of previous Cage Club entry Raising Arizona. Next time we stay in the crime genre and get mixed up in the ultimate long con. James Sawyer got nothing on Nic Cage in the next movie on the list, Deadfall. Hey, it’s directed by Nic Cage’s brother and his aunt is in this too! No Uncle Francis in sight but it’s still a family affair next time on Cage Club!