Film Reviews

Red State Kevin Smith

Rating - 7/10

Red State is proof that critics just want to hate Kevin Smith.  So far the film hasn’t received glowing reviews and neither has its controversial-for-no-obvious-reason grass roots marketing campaign, but upon viewing I found myself wondering, “Why does every critic hate this film?”  I found the answer not in the movie, but in the mind.  Critics don’t seem to dislike the film as much as the fact that Smith made it.  Growing from Clerks fame, Smith brought us Chasing Amy (considered his best), the Jay and Silent Bob characters (considered his most iconic) and most recently, Cop Out (considered his most vile).  Smith says Red State is the beginning of his early retirement from film, and it’s obvious that the dick and fart joke extraordinaire is exercising his previously unseen weird horror hand here.  I, for one, dig it hard.

The story begins where you’d expect from a Smith flick: in the mind of three horny teenage kids.  They want to get down, so they plan to tag team an easy chick in the nearby town of Cooper's Dell that they’ve heard of only through sleazy Internet contact.  Turns out the Web isn’t a great place to look for innocent sex.  The kids (Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner and Nicholas Braun, all in top form) end up in the hands of the Five Points Church, a hate mongering, uber Conservative, backwoods religious organization (think real life “God Hates Fags” idiots the Phelps family, with guns).  The Church seeks to punish humanity and all of its inherently homosexual ways for being so damn, well, different from them.  Enter Abin Cooper, a stellar Michael Parks as the Church’s grossly likable leader (Smith is right in campaigning for the long overdue, Oscar deprived actor).  I’d call Parks the Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) of Red State.  Melissa Leo and a newly slimmed John Goodman add some flare as well, helping the movie transcend one dimension.
From here, the film branches off into a couple subplots and evolves from dark, Southern grind house horror film to psychological action flick (cue AK-47 gunshots and a killer saran wrap murder scene).  The film reaches accomplishment in its strive to not scare, but haunt the viewer.  The most sincere chill I got was not from the sweaty Christian torture or near suicide of Stephen Root as Sheriff Wynan, but the sight of Gallner writhing in a small, blanketed animal cage before a three-year-old member of the Church peeks in.  That image is the most packed punch of the film.  It represents the easily influenced innocence within, the simplicity gone complicated.  That’s what Red State is. 
It’s amazing how much is contained within such a small film, but not in the cluster fuck fashion of other overly ambitious indie-director-gone-Hollywood-director-gone-indie-director-again flicks.  The previously mentioned cast gets major props for transforming the picture from a sketch into a painting.  Kerry Bishé is a steal as an emotionally torn youth member of the Church.  TV fans will clap when they see Breaking Bad regulars Matt Jones and Anna Gunn in minor roles.  Is it Clerks?  No, but it’s hard to compare two films that are so different, both stylistically and genre-wise.  It has also grown to be a pain in the ass comparing everything Smith does to his starter film.  We don't compare all Radiohead albums to Pablo Honey, do we?  The Smith touch is there at its most obvious, within the dialogue and pre-tragedy teenage banter, but the atmosphere also gives us a raw, “Hey, remember how indie I can be?” feel that Chasing Amy carried.  For the most part, though, Smith skips giggles for intensity.  He misses the mark on a few moments, but even then its run ’n’ gun fun is a kick to watch.  Dave Klein’s handheld and purely raw cinematography is a great addition to an already gleaming movie about imperfection.
But, when you take all the rest of the movie away, the thing that really sticks with you is the bigotry Smith bashes, using the film as an obvious vehicle.  A realistic portrait of government-versus-church and church-versus-people battles are framed quite clearly within.  Both sides have their draws and pushes, but both are revealed to be just as corrupt as the other.  That may really be why Red State pisses so many people off.  It takes the obviousness of villain-versus-hero away, obscuring what’s real and what's fake until you‘re left only with your opinion.  It has the balls to make people choose what they believe in when staring into the face of reality.  Whose side are you really on?  I’m on Smith’s.