Dennis Hopper is at his psychotic best as a hit man in this 1992 one-plot-twist-after-another thriller set in the dusty town of Red Rock, Wyoming. Nicholas Cage plays the Hitchcockian hero--innocent of any real crime but whose one mistake earns him the wrath of real criminals. Critics who loved this movie as much as myself are baffled as to why it went direct to video and cable and bypassed theaters. It's fast-paced, has all the classic film noir elements, and surprises you every few minutes. The word is that JOHN DAHL was an unknown director who couldn't find an American distributor. The film's detractors insist that too many plot twists render it an implausible parody. I think the plot twists make it fun. The only thing I find unbelievable is Cage's character's honesty. Who do you know that, desperate for a job, would volunteer information that might keep him or her from getting one?
MICHAEL WILLIAMS (Cage) arrives in Wyoming for a job interview. A friend who works on an oil rig has recommended him to the boss, but Michael doesn't get hired because of the company's insurance concerns. He has a pre-existing leg injury that he got as a marine in Viet Nam. "It just wouldn't be right," he explains to his friend when said friend questions why he was stupid enough to mention it. He stops at a gas station where the manager leaves him alone with a tempting drawer full of cash. But he doesn't touch it. The manager sends him job-hunting in blink-and-you'll-miss-it Red Rock where he stops at the only bar in town and forks over his last cents for coffee. Luckily the bar owner, WAYNE (WALSH) has a job for him, even yells at him for being late: "You were supposed to be here last week..I thought I'd have to get someone else." He even gives him a $5000 salary advance. Unfortunately Michael isn't cut out for the "job" of murdering Wayne's wife. But he can't tell Wayne because he's already pretended to be LYLE from Dallas, the professional killer. (Wayne saw the Texas plates on Michael's car and didn't bother to ask.)
Michael takes Wayne's money, keys, and gun, and waits at their ranch house for SUZANNE (BOYLE) to come home so he can warn her that the honeymoon is over. But sexy Suzanne is fearless. "I'll double it," she promises, if he'll knock off Wayne instead. Being no killer he advises her to get a divorce and leaves town..with Wayne's cash. It's dirty money, so why not? The man who was destitute that morning loads up on junk food at a 711, then cheerfully hands the clerk a $100 bill. "Not today," he tells her when she asks if he has anything smaller. Michael soon discovers that this was no time to break his habit of honesty because Wayne, meanwhile, is livid when he phones home and hears Suzanne's live voice.
Eager to leave Red Rock Michael is driving in a rainstorm when a man steps out in front of the car and is knocked unconscious. Recognizing him as Suzanne's ranch hand he plays the samaritan and takes him to the emergency room. But the hospital detains him and calls the sheriff--the doctors found bullets in the man's back. He'd been shot before he ever stepped in front of Michael's car. I'll ruin the rest of the movie for you if I reveal the next surprise. But before Michael finally says Adios to Red Rock, he ends up in bed with Suzanne and then in a graveyard with the real Lyle, who isn't flattered that Michael tried to impersonate him.
Another great pleasure of this movie is the Wyoming scenery, especially in the ending shots where Michael is riding away on a train to the twangy "I'm a Thousand miles from Nowhere," (the musical score is great, too), just as he started out, with only a few dollars in his pocket, but much wiser.
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