Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Instead of pegging our picks to a new release, we’re running through the best movies of 1993.
Red Rock West (1993)
Notwithstanding its cop-out upbeat ending, Red Rock West solidified the expert neo-noir credentials of John Dahl (The Last Seduction). A taut, nasty bit of crime-genre business, Dahl’s tale (co-written with brother Rick) is in most respects archetypal: After failing to find oil-rig work due to an injury, former marine-turned-drifter Michael Williams (Nicolas Cage) stumbles into a remote Wyoming bar and is promptly mistaken by the owner, Wayne Brown (the late, great J.T. Walsh), for the assassin he’s hired to kill his wife, Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle). A quick POV pan between a picture of Suzanne and a wad of cash makes plain Michael’s thought process in accepting the gig. Problems, however, soon arise when Suzanne offers to double his fee to kill Wayne instead. He accepts, and then—while attempting to flee with the advance cash he’s netted for these murders—accidentally runs over a stranger and, at the hospital, discovers that Wayne is in fact also the local sheriff.
Drowning in bad-luck quicksand, Michael is the prototypical noir schlub, failing miserably at every turn to alter his fortunes by behaving fundamentally out of character. Once Wayne’s real hit man, “Lyle from Dallas” (Dennis Hopper), arrives, things get truly chaotic. Lyle’s recurring criticism of Michael—that he thinks he’s “better than everyone”—is apt, as Red Rock West makes plain that our hero, sympathetic as he may be, is truly no different than the rest of these greedy, murderous cretins. Subsequent revelations about Wayne and Suzanne’s past only strengthen Dahl’s bleak, caustic portrait of a world that thwarts any and all attempts to change one’s identity for the better. Blue-sky sunshine casts a harsh, judgmental light on the action at hand—and on its protagonist, embodied by Cage with a weirdo ruggedness that’s tinged with weary resignation regarding the messy course he’s charted for himself.
Availability: Red Rock West is available on DVD, which can be obtained through Netflix, and to rent or purchase through the major digital services.