Being a good guy can sometimes get you into trouble, as happens to young Nicolas Cage in this far-out 1993 movie, Red Rock West.
The actor plays young Michael Williams, a former soldier with an injured leg who travels 1,000 miles to Wyoming in search of work.
Unfortunately, his physical condition worries the boss, who refuses to even give him a chance so as not to have problems with medical insurance.
So Michael gets into his car, angry and disappointed, driving as long as his remaining gasoline allows to the nearest town, Red Rock West, where he will spend his last $5.
However, when he enters a bar for a drink, the man behind the counter, Wayne, mistakes him for someone else and offers to kill his wife to earn $5,000.
Indeed, the license plate on his car is almost identical to that of one Lyle, a hitman from Dallas, who will take care of this marriage problem in his own way.
Michael accepts the money, but having no intention of killing anyone, he goes to Wayne’s house, where he meets his wife, the beautiful Suzanne, trying to warn her of her husband’s murderous intentions.
Without hesitation, the woman puts another $5,000 on the table to overturn the contract, proposing to kill Wayne instead.
Once again, Michael pockets the cash with no intention of seriously accepting the proposal, pointing the car away from Red Rock West but first writing a letter to the sheriff warning him of the dangerous situation.
Unfortunately, he is unaware that the town sheriff is Wayne himself, while the actual killer has come into town and is quite upset that someone else stole his job.
Born to be honest
What I love most about a movie is its simplicity and effectiveness, which Red Rock West from 1993 nails ideally.
John Dahl‘s straightforward and essential direction shines, bringing to life a gritty crime screenplay he co-wrote with Rick Dahl, capturing the essence of the American dream: seizing an opportunity to make quick money.
However, the main character, brilliantly and convincingly portrayed by Nicolas Cage, seems to be the opposite of this spirit. For instance, when he first arrives in town, he has a chance to steal some money from a workshop unnoticed, but he doesn’t even try.
He’s a guy who just wants to stay honest, even when it’s not in his favor, like during the initial job interview; if he had avoided mentioning his injured leg, they would have hired him.
Towards the end (no spoilers), we see his strong moral integrity shine even brighter into a climax I really loved. Some might call him foolish, but isn’t that what true honesty is about?
His pure soul isn’t quite fit for the harsh, sun-baked lands of Wyoming. Especially in this town he stumbles upon, ruled by a sheriff with a hidden criminal past.
In this world, no one is innocent. Everyone tries to take advantage of others, lying and stealing whenever possible.
Yet, the breathtaking natural beauty of the location and the stunning Lara Flynn Boyle starkly contrast with the dark secrets each character hides.
In these quiet streets and typical large suburban American homes, a series of crimes unfold, revealing the dark soul of America.
Fortunately, the photography is perfectly in tune with the natural light without becoming an exaggerated mixture of colors, just as the pace remains sustained without becoming unbearable, always staying focused on the characters and the continuously shifting evolution of their relationships.
Perfect acting poker
Of course, this 1993 movie is not all bright lights without flaws; for example, certain twists and turns in the Red Rock West plot happen, perhaps, too quickly, as some improbable coincidences at some points.
However, what shines with blazing fire instead is the excellent performance of the entire cast, beginning with the lurching but reliable Nicolas Cage in one of his most personally felt roles, least known to general audiences.
I can’t explain why, but I found him really close to the cool rebel Sailor from the famous Wild at Heart, although they are highly different characters, yet share that anarchic outsider spirit.
In this case, however, young Michael refuses to be dirty and corrupt like everyone else, willingly accepting the money but never really being guilty of any crime and keeping his soul intact.
Quite the opposite, however, Dennis Hopper plays the crazed killer and adds another colorful character to his long and exciting career.
He is a ruthless businessman, but not only. He initially seems driven only by money, but when he fully releases his violence, we see him subjugate everyone else with his destructive personality.
I must say that I feel a little sorry for J.T. Walsh: an actor I have always liked very much, but I have never seen him play a positive character.
However, he always puts his personality even in ungrateful roles, always managing to set an appropriate face on these bastards that we love to hate.
Last but not least, Lara Flynn Boyle is a stunning actress with a great personality, not only beautiful but also with incredible charisma.
Her character is undoubtedly the most ambiguous: she is as powerful and confident in specific settings as she is delicate in others, allowing for a whole spectrum of different emotions.