Occasionally, the notion of an Australian cinematic identity rears its ugly head. Images of the bush have both captivated audiences and dominated discussion surrounding the complex identity issues. Throughout the decades, the wild, rogue, bushman hero has been one of the most popular representations through films as varied as Mad Max and the various incarnations of Ned Kelly. Red Hill harks back to this notion, but also places it in a contemporary setting with a flawed centralised hero.
Unable to deal with the hustle and bustle of the city, Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten) relocates to a quieter town with his pregnant wife Alice (Claire van der Boom). Shane is a cop, and begins work at the local police station where his first day begins with awkward encounters upon meeting his co-workers (Kevin Harrington as the dopey Jim Barlow and Steve Bisley as the menacing Old Bill). Suddenly, things pick up in this seemingly quiet town. A local Aboriginal criminal has escaped from jail and is believed to be heading back towards the town to seek vengeance against the police force that imprisoned him.
Through a series of blood drenched standoffs, Shane naturally becomes the man who must save the day. However, Red Hill’s narrative is more complex than the simple good guy/bad guy routine that is the usual fare of Westerns. Shane is a quite flawed protagonist. He is flawed in his abilities from not being able to shoot a gun when needed, and he continually makes stumbling decisions that do not disarm the criminal, but only send him on his merry way.
Filmed in Omeo, in East Gippsland, Victoria, Red Hill exists as an Australian answer to the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men. The land is sparse and wide. Scenes show mountains of open land, summoning up the formerly dominant notions of the post colonial settlement land. But is the film continuing the rogue bush hero or simply referencing it? Where the film is different to No Country is in the treatment of its antagonist. A truth is uncovered by Shane that sheds a different light on who is the evil one, providing for a narrative shock.
Dmitri Golovko’s score adheres to the slow moving pace in the beginning of the film. The guitars are reminiscent of the small town based ABC drama SeaChange. However, the film score ends in a wonderfully complicated and strong string led rock conclusion.
Kwanten works well as Shane. He stumbles and falls, but through it all he saves the day as the typical hero does. In the supporting roles, Steve Bisley is commanding as senior inspector and Tom E. Lewis is disturbing as the indigenous outlaw figure. His burnt face only adds to the notion of being an “other” already established through his indigenousness.
With his feature film debut, writer/director Patrick Hughes brings another genre film back to the Australian industry, which is slowly regaining its formerly dominant genre forms. Interior dramas have dominated the last decade in Australian cinema, but through films such as Wolf Creek and Lake Mungo to name a few, genre is increasingly represented.
Red Hill premiered at the 60thBerlin International Film Festival, and was theatrically released on November 25, 2010 through Sony Pictures. Red Hill is featured in Film Blerg’s Favourite Australian Film Assignment.