Red Rock West

Red Rock West is a 1993 American neo-noir[1] thriller film directed by John Dahl and starring Nicolas Cage, Lara Flynn Boyle, J. T. Walsh and Dennis Hopper. It was written by Dahl and his brother Rick, and shot in Montana and Willcox, Arizona.

Red Rock West
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Dahl
Produced bySteve Golin
Sigurjón Sighvatsson
Written byJohn Dahl
Rick Dahl
Music byWilliam Olvis
CinematographyMarc Reshovsky
Edited byScott Chestnut
Distributed byRoxie Releasing
Release date
  • June 16, 1993 (1993-06-16) (France)
  • April 8, 1994 (1994-04-08) (U.S.)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$7 million
Box office$2,502,551

The film was well received at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival, but deemed a cable and direct-to-video product by Columbia TriStar Home Video, which owned the North American rights. When Bill Banning, the owner of a San Francisco movie theater and a huge fan of the film, arranged for a theatrical release, the film gained a "buzz" and toured the U.S. as an art-house hit.


Michael Williams (Nicolas Cage) is a drifter living out of his car after being discharged from the Marine Corps. A job on an oilfield falls through due to his unwillingness to conceal a war injury on his job application, so Michael wanders into rural Red Rock, Wyoming, looking for other work. A local bar owner named Wayne (J. T. Walsh) mistakes him for a hit man, "Lyle from Dallas", whom Wayne has hired to kill his wife. Wayne offers him a stack of cash—"half now, half later"—and Michael plays along by taking the money.

Michael visits Wayne's wife, Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle) and attempts to warn her that her life is in danger instead of killing her. She offers him more money to kill Wayne. Michael tries to leave town but a car accident leads him to encounter the local sheriff, who turns out to be Wayne. Michael manages to escape from Wayne but runs into the real Lyle from Dallas (Dennis Hopper). Lyle and Wayne quickly figure out what has transpired, while Michael desperately tries to warn Suzanne before Lyle finds her.

The next morning, when Lyle comes to get money from Wayne, he kidnaps both Suzanne and Michael, who are trying to retrieve hidden cash from Wayne's office. Wayne and Suzanne are revealed to be wanted for embezzlement and Wayne is arrested by his own deputies. Lyle returns with Michael and Suzanne hostage and gets Wayne out of jail to retrieve their stash of money. At a remote graveyard, Wayne pulls a gun from the case of money and holds Lyle at gunpoint before Lyle throws a knife into Wayne's neck. Michael and Lyle fight, with Lyle ending up being impaled on a grave marker. When Lyle rises to attack Michael, Suzanne shoots him dead.

Michael and Suzanne escape onto a nearby train, but when Suzanne tries to betray Michael, he throws the money out of the speeding train and then throws Suzanne off to be arrested by the police accompanied by a wounded Wayne. Michael's train continues its journey into a new town.



Red Rock West was made in 1992 in Arizona on a budget of $7 million.[2] The domestic rights were sold to Columbia Tri-Star home video for $2.5 million and the foreign rights to Manifesto Films, a subsidiary of PolyGram Filmed Entertainment.[2]


Test screenings for the film were not strong and Peter Graves, an independent consultant who headed the marketing department at Polygram said, "The film doesn't fall neatly into any marketable category. A western film noir isn't something people can immediately spark to".[2] One of the producers suggested early on that the film be submitted to the Sundance Film Festival and was told by the studio that it wasn't a festival film.[2] Columbia sold Red Rock West to cable and it was shown seven times on HBO in the fall of 1993.[2]

The film opened successfully in theaters in Germany, Paris, and London in the summer of 1993. Piers Handling, director of the Toronto International Film Festival saw the film in Paris and decided to show it at the festival in September.[2] Bill Banning, who owned the Roxie Cinema and Roxie Releasing in San Francisco saw Red Rock West in Toronto and thought that there might be an American theatrical audience for the film. It took him until January 1994 to find out who owned the rights.[2] The film had already played on HBO and was due to come out on video in February.[2] Banning started showing Red Rock West at the Roxie Cinema on January 28, 1994 where it broke box office records before expanding to eight theaters in the city.[2] It then opened in Los Angeles and New York City.


In his review for The Washington Post, Richard Harrington praised it as "a treasure waiting to be discovered".[3] Writing in The New York Times, Caryn James called it "a terrifically enjoyable, smartly acted, over-the-top thriller".[4] Roger Ebert praised it as "a diabolical movie that exists sneakily between a western and a thriller, between a film noir and a black comedy," and gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four.[5] The film has a score of 95% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes indicating general critical acclaim.

Year-end listsEdit


The soundtrack for the film features a number of country music performers, including Johnny Cash, Shania Twain, Toby Keith, The Kentucky Headhunters, and Sammy Kershaw. Dwight Yoakam wrote the film's closing credits song "A Thousand Miles From Nowhere" when the film was being made and while the musician made his film acting debut in the film. The song went on to become a Top 10 country hit.[12]


  1. ^ Silver, Alain; Ward, Elizabeth; eds. (1992). Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (3rd ed.). Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-479-5
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hornaday, Anne (April 3, 1994). "Film Noir, 'Tweener' or Flub?". The New York Times. Retrieved December 24, 2016.
  3. ^ Harrington, Richard (April 15, 1994). "Movies; 'Red Rock West': Strange Turns on the Road". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on September 25, 2017. Retrieved December 24, 2016.
  4. ^ James, Caryn (April 8, 1994). "Review/Film; The New Boy in a Town Ruled by Coincidence". The New York Times. Retrieved December 24, 2016.
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (May 6, 1994). "Reviews: Red Rock West". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 24, 2016.
  6. ^ MacCambridge, Michael (December 22, 1994). "it's a LOVE-HATE thing". Austin American-Statesman (Final ed.). p. 38.
  7. ^ Travers, Peter (December 29, 1994). "The Best and Worst Movies of 1994". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
  8. ^ Siskel, Gene (December 25, 1994). "The Year's Best Movies". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  9. ^ Turan, Kenneth (December 25, 1994). "1994: YEAR IN REVIEW : No Weddings, No Lions, No Gumps". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
  10. ^ Arnold, William (December 30, 1994). "'94 Movies: Best and Worst". Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Final ed.). p. 20.
  11. ^ Elliott, David (December 25, 1994). "On the big screen, color it a satisfying time". The San Diego Union-Tribune (1, 2 ed.). p. E=8.
  12. ^ Bearden, Keith (August 1, 1994). "John Dahl". MovieMaker. Retrieved March 5, 2009. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help)[dead link]

External linksEdit