Monday, January 30, 2012

Red State

[Editorial note: This review was originally written in October 2011, when I first watched the film. Since then I have come to learn that this was not very well received, and earned its way on several "Worst of 2011" lists. That said my stance stays the same, I really liked Red State, and when watched it thought it would have been very well loved. I was wrong, but that's okay. I am not going to allow the almost unanimous negativity for this film influence me to revisit and rethink my opinion, it stays. I really liked Red State, see below to find out why. Maybe you agree, maybe not. To each their own right?.]

If you would have approached me ten years ago and said, “Hey, did you know that quite possibly Kevin Smiths best film he will ever make is going to be a horror film that may carry a heavy likeness to a Tarantino or Coen Brothers work?” I would have probably have first said “Clearly no because you are from the future and I am not”. Then I would have called you a crazy person, then stopped to really think about it and decided it was entirely possible. Well is it entirely possible? I have been a big Kevin Smith fan for many years, I love every one of his films (yes that includes Jersey Girl which actually ranks pretty high in my books). However it has always been his writing that has made his films so good, and he himself has even proclaimed that he is not a very good director. Now I would never go as far as to say that, clearly he is being modest. He has blossomed over the years into a very good director. His films however have always been a vehicle for his amazing writing talents, and have always lacked any kind of exceptional style. So how does Red State stack up? Has he managed to give us something that can actually be held in the same respect as a Quentin Tarantino or Coen Brothers film? Well…

Where to begin with Red State? When the credits began to role, and I started to recount the events that just played out for the last 90 or so minutes, I realized that writing about what I just watched is going to feel like tip toeing through a field of spoiler mines. There is so much that happens in such a short playtime that even by explaining the opening moments I feel I may spoil the potential experience for anyone who has yet to watch it. So I will try my hardest to avoid spoiling any of the many, many twists and shock moments, and believe me there are “oh my god” moments a plenty.

Red State primarily focus’ on a severely fundamentalist religious group called Five Points Church, who are a very well known and despised group of religious, anti homosexual fanatics who believe the world is a lost cause and the end of mans existence is coming. They have also shut themselves out from the rest of the world by tearing down barns, and building a fortification around their church that the locals come to call “The Great Wall of Bullshit”. They only find time to leave their sanctuary to protest the funerals of dead homosexuals as they believe they are going to burn in hell and do not deserve a religious ceremony. This “family” is led by the mighty Pastor Abin Cooper (Micheal Parks). There is a good number of followers who reside and believe in the teachings of the Pastor, including a few very young children who represent the most uncomfortable and sad element of the film, as their innocence among the pure evil of this small society shines very bright. There is a very sad and tender moment when during one of the Pastors dark and ritualistic preachings we see a young girl who is playing on one of the church pews while singing “I’m good at climbing, I’m good at climbing”

One of the Five Points methods to cleaning the evil from the world is using the internet, which they call “The Devils Playground” to lure potential homosexuals and adulterers to their grasps by posting phoney wanted adds on classified sex sites. When their unsuspecting victims answer the adds they are drugged and captured to be tortured and executed in one of the Pastors sadistic services. As you may have seen in the trailers, this is exactly how the three unsuspecting teenage boys Travis (Micheal Angarano), Jared (Kyle Gallner), and Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun), find themselves in captivity. They answer an add on a site for older women seeking sexual encounters with younger men. The add in question is placed by one of the Five Points women, and the Pastors own Daughter Sarah (Melissa Leo). She invites the three teens into her trailer to have sex with her, but they must all do it at the same time. She greets them and insist they each drink two beers. Soon after they pass out and find themselves tied up in cages, and under the church floor. They have become examples to be set by Pastor Cooper, unless they can find an escape route out of course. This is about all I am going to say about this element of the film, and even though I fear I may have already said too much, there is so much more to this story then the above synopsis.

Now you may also have noticed in the trailers, and posters that there are some government agents, and heavy gun fire in the film. Now I will not mention the circumstances that led to the arrival of the government agents, and heavy gun fire, but I assure you they are there for a reason, and its important. You will soon be introduced to ATF Special Agent Keenan, played so very well by the great John Goodman. He and his team are sent to the church with a warrant to search the premiss under suspicion they may have possession of illegal fire arms. Stop! I have officially said enough, I can’t stress enough that there is nothing more I can say in good conscious that won’t spoil the element of shock and surprise. You will just have to see for yourself.

I will however talk about the cast, what an ensemble. Kevin Smith managed to wrangle together his best cast of actors since Dogma, and they are all at their best. You will find John Goodman(of course), Kevin Pollock, Stephen Root, Melissa Leo as I mentioned, Kerry Bishe, and of course Micheal Parks. What can I say about Micheal Parks? He is absolutely brilliant. I can say with no doubt that his performance is the best I have seen all year, maybe two years. He is perfectly cast, and its impossible not to hang onto every word that comes out of his mouth, as horrifying as they are. As I stated before John Goodman is really great as well. Its the kind of cast that when put on a project, and given a great script such as this one and they can shine, and they certainly do.

So this now brings us back to the first question, is Red State Kevin Smiths best film? Has he given the world a top notch film that can stand tall among the likes of a Tarantino orCoen Brothers film? Well…that’s not my call. I can’t answer that for you. I can easily tell you that Ketchup tastes good on Mac & Cheese, or that watching baseball live can be exciting. But until you experience that for yourself, you really won’t know for sure. It is a film that will recieve vastly different reactions across the board, many positive, and many negative. However I will tell you my personal opinion, because that is pretty much what I have been working to, and this is my review. Red State is a phenomenal film that I loved very much. Is it my favorite Smith film? No, that will probably always be Clerks 2. Do I think it stacks up against a Tarantino, or a Coen film. Yes I very much do. But why do we need to compare this to anything? Who cares if it holds a candle to those films. The important thing is that it is a great film, and we shouldn’t be calling it “as good as a Tarantino film” we should be calling it “a great Kevin Smith film!”

(originally Written for

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