My Buddy is a Cage – Red Rock West (1993)

We’re toning it down this week with John Dahl’s Western neo-noir, Red Rock West. I hope. Crippled war vet Michael Williams (Cage) can’t find steady pay in Wyoming, so it’s little surprise that when Red Rock’s Sheriff Wayne Brown (J.T. Walsh) mistakes him for the assassin he’s hired to kill his wife (Lara Flynn Boyle), Michael takes the money up front and runs. Of course the actual hitman, Dennis Hopper’s Lyle, turns up and delivers Michael red back to Wayne. Caught red handed and now in police custody, Michael has to decide if he should break ties with this mess altogether or stay in Red Rock a little longer.

Impressions are ultimately tempered by expectations, and I had absolutely no expectation going into Red Rock West. It’s safe to say the past few views have erred more on the “miss” side of hit-or-miss, so this was a definite relief to discover that not only is Red Rock West NOT terrible, but it’s actually pretty damn good. This is a stiff cocktail of opportunism and greed that remains true to its genre roots while displacing it in East Bumblefuck Nowhere, America.

There are several real strengths here. Marc Reshovsky’s photography has some remarkable staging in it, and even though our “Wyoming” is really comprised of Montana and Arizona, the cobalt pallor of these landscapes ties right into the very bleak outlook. Of course, I’d be remiss in ignoring what has been the now tried-and-true axiom of a sedated Cage; when the script and/or director demand it, Cage doesn’t over ham, and that’s definitely a plus.  Fortunately, we do get a taste of Caged Wisdom through Michael’s brief commentary on our dear neighbors to the South, though it’s really more a wink to those of us expecting it:

Dennis Hopper takes over for much of the over-top-ness as a dynamic hitman, and while J.T. Walsh always seems to be cast as the stock sleaze bag, like Cage, he dials it back and lets the grungy underbelly of the story seep into the film’s crevices. This is neo-noir, so corruption and illicitness are rampant of course. Lara Flynn Boyle and her telephone pole frame make for a serviceable femme fatale, but this is less Blood Simple or Fargo and much more cowboys meet The Maltese Falcon so her presence feels more mandatory than organic.

By the time things really boil over, character motivations have become so entangled that the final negotiations play out like one of John Woo’s hyper-Mexian standoffs. What prevents this from feeling so passé is Cage’s Michael is never truly in a position of power, nor does he stand on any moral high ground until the end. Red Rock West doesn’t completely avoid the preachy proselytizing that classic noir so brilliantly side-stepped, but we don’t get any Sam Spade narration either. At its best, Red Rock West is a taut piece of story that keeps you invested with its brisk pace, even if Michael himself limps through it all, often literally.

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Anybody know if Cage has even been remotely related to a Batman property? I’ve got a feeling that’s all I’ll be thinking about next week. Shocker.

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Want more Cage? You got it.

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One response to “My Buddy is a Cage – Red Rock West (1993)

  1. Pingback: My Buddy is a Cage — The Frozen Ground (2013) | Majestic Wolf Blog

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