Movies Nobody Talks About - Red Rock West (1993)

A Nicolas Cage and Dennis Hopper movie nobody talks about? - That's right.
Red Rock West is a 1993 neo-noir film by director John Dahl, that was initially considered too hard to market and deemed to be a better fit for a straight-to-home-video release. After a lot of trouble and back and forth, Red Rock West finally managed to gain an audience - but still, it was too late.
Today, only very few people even know about Red Rock West, making it a criminally underrated hidden gem with a great cast of A-list actors.

Let's take a closer look at Red Rock West as one of the "Movies Nobody Talks About".


Let's start with what Red Rock West is about.
Red Rock West focusses on protagonist Michael Williams (Nicolas Cage), a drifter living out of his car with only little money and who is constantly looking for a job.
After once again being declined a job, Michael visits a local bar, where he meets its owner Wayne (J.T.Walsh). Caught up in a weird misunderstanding, Wayne mistakes Michael for a hitman he hired to kill his wife Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle). Taking advantage of the opportunity, Michael doesn't inform the bar owner of the mistake and takes half of the promised cash ("half now, half later") and leaves for Suzanne's residence.
Meeting Suzanne at her ranch, Michael informs her about her husband's plans of killing her. Surprisingly enough, Suzanne offers Michael even more money if he turns the table around, killing Wayne for her.
Little did Michael know what chain of events, misunderstandings and coincidences he set in motion - and what danger he got himself into.

What's hands down the most interesting aspect about Red Rock West, is that it's very hard to pin it down to a specific genre. While it primarily works and feels like a modern film noir (neo-noir), the movie also incorporates many other elements as for example the thriller genre and even some western aspects with its setting in Wyoming.
Furthermore, Red Rock West is a movie that is incredibly easy to get immersed into. This is mostly achieved through the fact that there is not a lot of backstory unveiled throughout the movie, and no flashbacks or anything that you have to piece together for yourself. With that said, Red Rock West is a movie with a tremendously enjoyable flow, since its story always seems to focus on the here and now. The viewer is always just as smart and knowing as the main protagonist Michael, following him throughout the story as if the viewer would be experiencing all the strange and dangerous situations he falls into himself.
With quite some twists and turns revealed throughout the story, it's of course difficult to talk about it in any more detail without giving too much away, since the main fun in Red Rock West is seeing in what coincidental and life-threatening situations Michael gets himself into as the plot thickens.

It's a film noir. It's a western. It's a thriller...It's Red Rock West.

But why does nobody talk about Red Rock West or even know of its existence?
The explanation for this is actually rather complicated:
After Red Rock West was produced with a budget of around 7 Mio. dollars, its initial domestic publishing rights were sold to Columbia Tri-Star home video, while the foreign rights were sold to Manifesto Films. First test screenings went not very good and caused quite some criticism towards the movie (while it's also said that not even the movie's producers showed up at the preview).
As a reaction, Tri-Star mentioned that it found Red Rock West hard to market to a large theatrical audience since "A western film noir isn't something people can immediately spark to".
The movie then was set to be released as a TV movie on HBO, where it was shown seven times in 1993.
Overseas however, Red Rock West was screened in theaters in Germany, Paris and London, where it suprisingly gained positive feedback from audiences. Resultingly, Bill Banning, director of the Toronto Film Festival, suggested that there indeed might be an American audience for the movie. After quite some trouble to find out who currently owned the rights to the movie, Banning managed to give the movie a limited theatrical release in January of 1994 and a wider release in April of that year. Despite Red Rock West having been planned to come out on VHS and Laserdisc in February 1994, Banning still believed in the movie and released it against all odds - and it to some extent worked! Red Rock West gained positive reviews from critics and even broke box office records at the Roxie Cinema where it was first shown to the public.

Don't always trust test audiences.

After such a huge back and forth regarding the movie's release, it's no wonder that only few people heard about this movie, even despite it featuring a cast of well known Hollywood actors.
Nicolas Cage, Lara Flynn Boyle and Dennis Hopper were quite big names during the 90s, even when their careers only started to gain momentum at that time.
Another big aspect that could be the cause of why this modern film noir has been exiled into oblivion, could be the fact that Red Rock West doesn't feature any meme-worthy overacting of Nicolas Cage.
Actually, Red Rock West is a very well acted movie that perfectly manages to capture a soothing yet somehow also menacing atmosphere of loneliness and mystery throughout the entire experience.
Nicolas Cage as Michael is a perfect fit for the role. Michael really feels like an everyday guy who just tries to get through life but soon regrets his choices as he makes everything seemingly only worse with every step. This is back in the day when Nic Cage was a way calmer and more focussed actor, and Red Rock West is a perfect example for that. Also, what really helps to sell him as a protagonist is the fact that his dialogue is very credibly written. Parts in which Michael refuses to say anything or questions some of the other characters' actions feel quite realistic and relatable to what oneself would say or do in such situations.

I walk a lonely road...

Lastly, we got Lara Flynn Boyle as Suzanne. Flynn Boyle is a good choice for Suzanne and does good with her performance. But it's nothing to really write home about.
What actually is noteworthy however, is the casting of the antagonist characters.
First we got J.T. Walsh as Suzanne's husband Wayne, who wants to see her dead. While we won't spoil his motivations for that here, it's safe to say that Walsh is another very good pick for said role. Walsh in general has been known throughout the 90s for many very good villainous roles like in for example Jonathan Mostow's Breakdown. With Wayne always trying to pull the strings on getting his wife killed, it's interesting to see how he tends to not always have control over the situations. As Michael/Nicolas Cage outwits him in many cases, Wayne slowly turns from a very calm overseeing bad guy to one that quickly starts to lose his temper as he realizes that not everything goes as planned.
Yet of course Wayne only plays second fiddle to the movie's main attraction, which is Dennis Hopper as Lyle. Once again, without spoiling his role in the movie, this is as classic of a "Dennis Hopper bad guy" as it gets. Dennis Hopper has a very distinct way of playing villains in movies. Sure enough, one could argue that it's mostly just the same kind of character in every movie, but just no other actor manages to pull off a bad guy in the same somewhat charismatic but simultaneously extremely scary and unpredictable way as Dennis Hopper does. Anybody who loved Hopper's character in other movies like Waterworld or Speed, will have his fun time with him here as well.

90s Dennis Hopper bad guy is just one of a kind.

Bottom Line:

Red Rock West is a prime example of a hidden gem produced by a big Hollywood studio with a small but great cast of big league actors, that unfortunately fell off the radar due to ill-advised marketing choices.
Perfectly blending together genre-elements of film noir, thrillers and even westerns, Red Rock West is something you don't always come across. It's a movie that is best approached knowing as little as possible about it and just going with the flow.
What helps, is that it's extremely easy to let the movie's story pull you in. Without any overly complex flashbacks or big backstories involved, the viewer is always just as smart and knowing as the main protagonist Michael, witnessing every step and decision he makes as the story unravels at an enjoyable pace.
Topped off with some nice twists and many tense moments throughout the story, additionally held up by great performances, there is not really anything bad to say about Red Rock West (except maybe its bland poster).
Just go pick it up and have a good time with this hidden "Cage gem".

Where to see it:
Red Rock West is very rarely shown on TV. Your best chance of seeing it would be to just get it on DVD.


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