Red Rock West [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (19th January 2024).
The Film

"Red Rock West" (1993)

Michael (played by Nicolas Cage) is driving through the desert roads of Wyoming desperately in search for a working opportunity. With a leg injury from active duty hindering his ability to do manual labor, he’s obviously been turned down many times, but an unexpected opportunity comes to him in a small town called Red Rock. When he stops at the local bar and orders a coffee, the owner Wayne (played by J.T. Walsh) notices the Texas license plates and assumes he is a man called Lyle from Texas, who was supposed to come for a job a week ago. Michael seizes the opportunity and says he is Lyle and he is ready to take the job. But things become tense when Wayne hired a hitman for the job, for killing his wife Suzanne (played by Lara Flynn Boyle).

The story of a war veteran finding himself in an unlikely and dangerous situation, chase scenes, a sexy femme fatale, and multiple twists along the way, “Red Rock West” seems like a film noir title made in the 1940s or 1950s. But instead of city blocks and suits and hats, they are traded for the barren west and set in the 1990s. The neo-noir genre that spawned in the 1990s took inspiration from the cinema of nearly a half century prior, and updated it for the modern era, and “Red Rock West” is frequently placed in that category. While there are some inspirations taken from film noir, it also has its homages to westerns. Not only in its locations, but also in its delivery of pacing, carefully raising tension when necessary and firing out an explosive bang when necessary.

“Red Rock West” was directed by John Dahl and written by him and his brother Rick Dahl. The director’s first feature, the noir inspired “Kill Me Again” (1989) was highly acclaimed, though not a major hit at the box office. It performed better on home video and cable, and took notice from some major people including Francis Ford Coppola. While scouting locations for “Kill Me Again” and passing through desert towns and their rural bars, the Dahls thought of the idea of a story of a man passing through and being mistaken for someone else. The genesis of the story would start from there and would continue to twist and turn at every opportunity it could. What if he was mistaken for a hitman? What if he encountered the actual hitman he pretended to be? What if there was more than one killer on the loose? The script by the Dahl brothers is a familiar yet unique with its delivery, giving great lines of dialogue, tense situations from the setting, and just enough information to give clues along the way while also not revealing too much of the upcoming twists.

Propaganda Films, which produced Dahl’s first feature also produced “Red Rock West”, and the cast that they managed to gather was an excellent one. Nicolas Cage’s uncle Francis Ford Coppola urged him to take the opportunity to work on the film, and his performance in it is an exceptional one, even if it is mostly on the restrained side. There are a few explosive "Full Cage" scenes, but for the most part the character of Michael is just a man of a few words who’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. He doesn’t have a cool and confident stance as he is dealing with a permanent leg injury and he is almost always in a stressful situation from start to end. Walsh as bar owner Wayne plays things more straightforward, and his confidence turns to a breaking point when he realizes that Michael was planning to run off with the money. But the truth behind Wayne and his situation, as well as his wife Suzanne’s is where the story is at the core. Walsh always played supporting roles throughout his career and even though he is one of those “that guy from that movie” actors, he leaves a lasting mark here. Boyle also does a great job with her role as the femme fatale who tries to make a deal with Michael and tries to steal his heart, even if she does seem a little young in comparison to Walsh.

The one not so surprising turn is Dennis Hopper as the hitman Lyle, who has for many years excelled in playing uncompromising villains, though it’s always great fun. He’s not as unhinged as he had been in films such as “Blue Velvet” or “Mad Dog Morgan”, though he is still able to give a fantastic performance as the calm and cool yet edgy and violent Lyle. The Dahls originally envisioned Hopper to play the part of Wayne the bar owner, but Hopper was mistakenly sent the script of the character of Lyle. When they met in person there was confusion over the part that was being offered, and Hopper insisted that he play the character of Lyle and not Wayne. While the Dahls thought it would have been typecasting and they were insistent on Hopper to play the Wayne character, they eventually went with the actor’s choice which may have been for the better.

Shot on location in the state of Arizona for the most part and having a fairly small cast of main characters, it wasn’t any of the leads that excited the locals. Instead it came from the arrival of country music star Dwight Yoakam, playing a cameo role as a truck driver in one memorable sequence in his first acting role. He would also write and perform the film’s end credits theme song “A Thousand Miles from Nowhere” which hit #2 on the American country music charts and #3 on the Canadian music charts in 1993.

With a fairly small budget of $7 million, it was not a massive gamble for Propaganda Films and its parent company PolyGram, but the release of the film was a troubled and unusual one. The film was shot at the end of 1991 and the beginning of 1992, but sat on the shelf for more than a year, as the executives were not sure how to market it. Being a neo-noir, set in the American west, having dark humor and twists and turns, they were not sure how to sell it to audiences, and didn’t even feel the film was right for festival audiences. The film was licensed for European theatrical distribution, playing in various countries in the summer of 1993. While it played to fair praise overseas, Propaganda and PolyGram decided to forgo a theatrical release in America and license it for cable TV channel HBO for broadcast starting in the fall of 1993. During its European theatrical run, the director of the Toronto International Film Festival Piers Handling caught a screening and invited the film to be screened at his festival in September of 1993. It was there that Bill Banning, the head of Roxie Cinema in San Francisco saw the film and looked to having it screened at his theater. It wasn’t until January of 1994 that he could find out who the distributor was and told by Propaganda that it had already been sold to HBO for television and Columbia Tristar for VHS rentals and sales. It seemed like an ill-advised move to screen a movie theatrically when it was already available on cable TV and local video stores, Banning insisted that there was a theatrical audience for it. Importing a theatrical print from Canada as Propaganda and Columbia Tristar didn’t have any theatrical prints made for America, it became a word of mouth hit for the theater, slowly expanding to other cinemas in the city and to other major cities throughout 1994. It was an unusual situation to go to the cinema and see a new movie that was also available to rent at the same time, it realistically set a precedent on recent feature film releases going to cinemas, on-demand, and home media at the same time, though in an unplanned state for “Red Rock West”.

The film was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film and two Independent Spirit Awards for Best Director and Best Screenplay, all in 1995 which was nearly four years after the film was originally shot. By then, Cage had won an Oscar for his performance in “Leaving Las Vegas” and Hopper had more notable villainous roles in “Super Mario Brothers” and “Speed”. Dahl would direct “The Last Seduction” in 1994, which was yet another acclaimed neo-noir that was a minor box office hit. “Red Rock West” had an interesting release history, but it is not at all overshadowed by the film’s great direction, performances, and overall filmmaking. The Coen Brothers’ “Blood Simple” may be the closest there is to being something similar in tone and concept, yet it stands high by itself as a masterful neo-noir that should be embraced by a larger audience for the future.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray


Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The HD transfer comes from rightholder Universal, as shown with the opening logo being the 2000s era Universal logo. The transfer is a slightly dated one, and it has its strengths and its flaws. The opening few minutes are quite grainy since it has overlayed text for the credits so it looks a little rough with a thick appearance. Once the credits are done, the picture does look better with a sharper image and bolder colors, though it could be a little stronger overall. Detail is fair, though not particularly sharp. Film grain is visible throughout but it looks like there is some digital manipulation applied. On the brighter side there is little if any examples of film damage or errors, and colors seem consistent throughout. Overall it's a good transfer, though nothing too exceptional.

The film's runtime is 98:29.


English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo
The original stereo audio track is presented in lossless form. The stereo separation is heard through the great moody score by William Olvis, as well as examples of action sequences. Dialogue is always centered, and is well balanced against the music and effects. There are no issues of dropout, hiss, crackle, or other issues for a clean sounding audio track throughout.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature in a white font. They are well timed and easy to read without errors to speak of.


Audio commentary with director John Dahl, producer Rick Dahl, and editor Scott Chestnut (1999)
This commentary has the Dahl brothers recorded together, plus Chestnut separately recorded all discussing the making of the film. The Dahls discuss growing up in rural Montana, the evolution of the script and where certain ideas came from, choosing the locations, the casting process, Yoakam's contribution, the odd distribution of the film and much more. Chestnut goes more into the editing choices and some of the challenges he faced, as well as about the film's release. Note this was originally recorded for the Columbia Tristar DVD in 1999.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Audio commentary with Mondo Digital's Nathaniel Thompson (2023)
This new and exclusive commentary by Thompson is from a scholarly aspect, as he discussed about Propaganda Films, the background of the shooting, biographies and filmographies of the cast and crew, details on the film's distribution, the chemistry of the characters, comparisons to other film noir and other neo-noir features, and much more. There is a lot of great information packed in here, but he does have a habit of saying "of course" too many times.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

2022 Interview with John Dahl (30:01)
In this remotely conducted interview, Dahl recalls the production by discussing the origins for the story, getting Cage and Hopper casted for the film, the release and reception of the film and more. As it was done remotely, the picture and sound are not that great, with some echo though things are intelligible. Note this was originally available on the UK Plan B Entertainment Blu-ray.
in 1080p 30fps AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

2022 Interview with Editor Scott Chestnut (21:49)
This remote interview is a chat with Chestnut on the film, in which he talks about being from the same hometown as the Dahls, working on commercials and music videos together, Dahl's direction towards the editing, some specific examples such as the rooftop sequence, and more. Note this was originally available on the UK Plan B Entertainment Blu-ray.
in 1080p 30fps AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"The Man from Rhode Island: The Life and Times of J.T. Walsh" 2023 video essay by John Harrison (13:22)
This new video essay is about Walsh's career, which has information on his upbringing, his stage career, and examples of his various roles on television and film in supporting parts in a variety of genres, and his early death. It is illustrated with vintage clips, plus stills and scenes from various films that Walsh appeared in. Unfortunately Harrison doesn't use a good microphone so it sounds like an echoey Skype call throughout.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Caged In: Host Petros Patsilivas Talks Nicolas Cage's Performance" 2022 video essay (9:18)
This video essay has Patsilivas discuss specifically on Cage's work in the film, praising his choices with the character, some examples of great scenes, comparisons to Cage's other performances, and note on the psyche of the character in the film.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.85:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Trailer (2:16)
The film’s trailer is presented here, upscaled from a standard definition source that is a bit dark overall. It starts with a 2000s era Universal Home Video logo, though there are no company logos on the trailer itself.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

John Dahl Trailer Reel (17:20)
- "Kill Me Again"
- "Red Rock West"
- "The Last Seduction"
- "Unforgettable"
- "Rounders"
- "Joy Ride"
- "The Great Raid"
- "You Kill Me"

Presented here are trailers for films directed by Dahl. Some of them have fairly good transfers ("Kill Me Again", "The Last Seduction"), but others can be odd. "Joy Ride" is strangely squeezed to the 1.50:1 ratio making everyone look skinnier than they should. "The Great Raid" looks good except for some compression issues leading to some blockiness. "You Kill Me" may be the newest, but it is presented in a pixelated and choppy form. The trailer for "Red Rock West" is identical to the standalone trailer above.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in various aspect ratios, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Umbrella Entertainment previously released the film on DVD, which included the commentary track from the US/UK Columbia Tristar DVD plus text filmographies and trailers. For Blu-ray, it first received a release in Germany in 2016 from Koch Media, which only had bonus trailers as extras. The UK's Plan B Entertainment released their Blu-ray in 2022, which had the DVD commentary plus newly recorded interviews with Dahl, Chestnut, and actor/stuntman Dale Gibson plus the "Caged In" video essay and a stills gallery. Umbrella Entertainment has all the extras found on the UK release except for the Gibson interview, and adds a second commentary, a second video essay, and additional trailers. Though there isn't a stills gallery, the limited edition does include a number of stills from the film. Note that in the US, Vinegar Syndrome's Blu-ray release is being released in January of 2024, which has an exclusive 4K restoration of the film and a number of new and exclusive extras.

Notable clips:

Siskel & Ebert's very positive review of the film

Dwight Yoakam's music video for "A Thousand Miles from Nowhere"

Vinegar Syndrome's trailer for the film's 4K restoration


The disc is packaged in a standard keep case with a reversible cover, with the only difference for the opposite side is the lack of the M rating logo. The packaging mistakenly states region B only, as it is in fact region ALL.

The initial pressing also includes a slipcase with unique artwork. It is also available in a Collector's Edition limited to 300 copies exclusively from Umbrella Entertainment directly which includes:
- Rigid case
- Custom artwork slipcase
- Red Rock West Book - 48pp perfect bound book with new content written by Alexandra Heller-Nicolas, John Harrison and more
- 8 artcards
- A3 reversible poster

In the booklet we find notes on the film taken from the original press kit, with information on the basic story and the production. Next is the essay "Welcome to Red Rock" by critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (whose name is unfortunately misspelled on the back of the slipbox), followed by "Rebel with a Cause: Notes of Appreciation" by filmmaker Philippe Mora, and finally the essay "Travelling the Lost Highway of 1990s American Neo-Noir" by John Harrison. There is a lot of great information on the film and the genre within the text here. In addition to the stills included in the booklet, there are eight stills from the film on artcards. Finally, there is a double sided poster housed in the keep case, with one side having the keep case poster artwork and the other having the slipbox design poster artwork. The keep case, artcards, and booklet all fit well inside the sturdy slipbox.


"Red Rock West" is a neo-noir masterpiece with excellent performances and a fantastic script with great unpredictable twists. Umbrella Entertainment's Blu-ray release may have a slightly dated transfer, yet they did a great job with including new and vintage extras for further appreciation. Highly recommended.

The Film: A Video: B Audio: A Extras: A Overall: A-


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