Gimpy, unemployed drifter Nic Cage turns up in Red Rock, Wyoming, and enters a bar owned by a guy named Wayne (J.T. Walsh). For some reason, Wayne confuses Cage for the guy he has hired for $5,000, to murder his cheatin’ wife (Lara Flynn Boyle). Needing cash, Cage doesn’t fess up, and aims to split with the advance he’s already been given, but when he meets the smouldering Boyle, he decides to warn her instead. And then the real ‘Lyle from Dallas’ turns up, and Cage finds himself in one helluva sticky situation. Oh, did I mention that Wayne’s ‘other’ job is as local sheriff? Timothy Carhart plays Wayne’s deputy.
Directed by John Dahl (“The Last Seduction”) and co-written by Dahl and his brother Rick (who has since only penned one other screenplay), this 1993 noir is certainly familiar and typical of the genre. In some ways, I can understand why it wasn’t released in cinemas in Australia, and debuted on cable TV in the US. However, spot-on casting, terrific noirish lighting (that almost makes you wish it was in B&W), and a droll sense of humour make it better than most modern day noir films you are likely to see. It’s certainly better than Oliver Stone’s later “U-Turn”, which the film rather resembles at times (and “Blood Simple” especially).
I’m hardly a fan of Nic Cage or Lara Flynn Boyle, but there’s nothing wrong with their work here. Hell, I’m not the biggest Gloria Grahame fan either, and since that’s who Boyle is essentially emulating here, she’s the right person for the role. Cage, meanwhile, is well-cast as the down-on-his-luck noir hero, and is thankfully restrained. However, the film definitely belongs to Dennis Hopper, and the late J.T. Walsh, who really makes you miss him, seeing him do such fine work here. The man died way too young, and was an excellent character actor at playing bland or wholly unsympathetic characters. I suppose you could argue that casting him and Lara Flynn Boyle in their roles gives the game away a bit, but they’re so good here I didn’t mind. Meanwhile, it really is amazing to see Nic Cage and Dennis Hopper in a film where neither guy goes terribly over-the-top. Hopper can be lots of fun and rein it in when he wants to. Cute cameo too, by singer/actor Dwight Yoakam as a surly trucker, giving us a glimpse of the fine character actor he’d become in films like “Sling Blade” and “Panic Room”.
This may not be anything new (though the twists and turns liven it up), but it does what it does effectively, and deserves to be more well-known. It’s also a real shame that Dahl mostly works in TV these days (on shows like the addictive “Dexter”). The icing on the cake are the fine, bluesy score by William Ovis, and the excellent lighting by cinematographer Marc Reshovsky, making the film seem more expensive than it probably was.