Before he slammed onto the scene with The Last Seduction, director John Dahl gave us the surreal little thriller Red Rock West. Both are late entries in the 80's/90's neo-noir wave, but while Seduction has a lot going for it -- Linda Fiorentio's legs and a surprising villain turn by Bill Pullman -- I'd argue Red Rock is the more interesting film.
Seduction, after all, plays pretty straight by noir standards. And granted Red Rock begins cleanly enough: Nicolas Cage drifts into a small desert town and finds himself in a classic noir setup. Murder for hire, mistaken identities, you know the drill. But after that familiar opening refrain, Red Rock's story roams like a sax solo around a familiar standard melody. From murderous to openly comedic to David Lynch and back again ... I'm sure the Germans have a word for "quirky, yet evoking genuine dread". Assume I used it here.
The real thrill is watching J.T. Walsh. Dennis Hopper chews scenery and Cage, well, he's busy perfecting the genial loser persona that would keep him employed for a decade. Meanwhile Walsh is calmly, malevolently centering every scene he's in. He wields a ... dark gravity. The mistake casting directors made with him later was in playing him as venal, or mad. Walsh is best here and in, say, The Grifters, where he is obviously, terribly sane. His death just five years after this movie was a real loss.
It's odd to see this flick sitting in a pack of movies like The Grifters and Last Seduction and the criminally under-rated One False Move. But while I love all of those movies for their momentum, I enjoy Red Rock precisely for its refusal to take itself too seriously. To borrow a gaming term, it's a beer and pretzels noir. Perfect for a casual Sunday download, and streaming now -- until November 30th -- on Netflix.