A confident, impressive throwback to the halcyon days of Ozploitation. Big city cop Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten) takes a posting in a small outback town because his pregnant wife (Claire van der Boom) needs peace and quiet – and naturally shows up for work on the day Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis), a scarred aborigine with a grudge against Red Hill, escapes from jail and seems likely to come back to town to get payback. It’s plain slightly too early that Jimmy isn’t the Halloween-type psycho he seems, since he spares the innocent hero as he goes after the Sheriff (Steve Bisley) and his gun-toting posse – and the backstory crime committed against him is fairly easy to guess, even though it takes a while for Shane to work it out and he needs a written confession to tie up the loose ends. However, writer-director Patrick Hughes stages the action excitingly: it’s all taken at a deliberate pace, as Jimmy walks through the carnage like an avenging angel, but there are several great shocks. Adding to the suspense are an impending storm, the sheriff’s refusal to call in the back-up he needs and – of all things – a legendary panther which turns out to be real and lopes into the movie at a crucial point.
The plot has many Western overtones, and even borrows a lot from David Morell’s First Blood – but Hughes gives it a lot of Australian specifics, from the Sheriff’s put-down of the woman who wants to revive the town’s flagging economy with a food and wine festival (claiming his pioneer ancestors didn’t win this land ‘so wankers could drink fuckin’ Pinot’) to Jimmy’s dispatch of two of the nastier posse members with an Aboriginal spear and (yes) a boomerang from a historical display. The boomerang, in particular, is a masterstroke: conveyed through an offscreen sound effect before it slaps into Jimmy’s hand. Kwanten goes through a lot – including messy wounds, a spell in a refrigerator, falling off a mountain, getting soaked in the storm and being handcuffed to a bench when the big cat shows up – and covers himself in glory: there’s a subplot about his reluctance to use a gun among so many trigger-happy loons, which pays off of course when he has to have a face-off with a couple of wry villains who turn up on horseback for the finish and shows that heroic reluctance isn’t the same as inability.
Lewis, who was of course Jimmie Blacksmith in the seminal Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, almost seems to be reprising his signature role – he’s an iconic presence, especially with the scars, but a flashback or two tend to sentimentalise his victimhood in a way the film doesn’t need since the performance (with no dialogue until a final dying line) is doing the job already. Bisley is also a local film icon, Mad Max’s partner in the original film, and embodies the sort of profane, angry, wry Ocker we used to see a lot in 1970s movies: he’s a genial villain here, and also provides comic asides with his endless put-downs of the less-manly.