Archive for September, 2011

Review: “Red State”

Kevin Smith’s Red State is a passion project. In fact, it is in many ways the definition of an artist’s passion project. Fifty years from now, if one were to look back on the entirety of Kevin Smith’s filmography (which is set to wrap up once he completes his two-part Hit Somebody), one cannot help but look at Red State as either poorly conceived torture porn or his darkest, grittiest work. Either way, it stands out from his other films solely because it is so different. This probably isn’t the movie you’d think would come from the guy that wrote and directed Chasing Amy. But if you’ve followed Kevin Smith on Twitter or through his podcasts, you know that this is his most personal film to-date.

The film is about three teenagers who get abducted by a religious cult not unlike the real-life Fred Phelps and his family at the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. They’ve been lured there through the promise of sex with Sara (Melissa Leo), a middle-aged woman who happens to be the daughter of the church pastor, Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). Once they’re kidnapped, the teens are witness to the church’s extreme form of evangelization: killing those they believe to be sinners. Basically, in their eyes, sinners are gays, non-believers, and anyone else who do not share their extreme right-wing ideology. So extreme are they that, in the movie’s world, neo-Nazi groups make an effort to distance themselves from the Coopers.

The teens attempt an escape, but are only caught in a crossfire between the Coopers and local ATF agents, lead by Joseph Keenan (John Goodman), who has been investigating this radical church for some time. This isn’t a shoot-out between a couple of sheriff’s deputies and backwoods rednecks armed with hunting rifles. There’s a reason why the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms have their eye on the Coopers —  they’re armed to the teeth. Inside the compound is an armory with enough firepower to take over a small town. To counter that, Keenan’s men are also heavily armed. This puts the children living in the compound at extreme risk.

And that’s the gist of Red State. It’s short, clocking in at just under an hour and a half, and has a very straight-forward plot. Fans of the horror genre will be disappointed, as this film is neither scary nor horrifying. There’s plenty of action, but it’s on such a small scale that action fans would likely be let down, as well. Even for Kevin Smith fans there may not be a whole lot here. Yes, there’s plenty of dialogue, as per usual with any Smith film, but it doesn’t seem to flow the same way it does in scripts like Clerks 2 or Chasing Amy.

So who’s this film for, anyway?

It’s for Kevin Smith. That’s who.

This is a project that’s been on Smith’s mind for years, even before he publicly threw the idea out to the masses on his popular SModcast show. Smith doesn’t play with any subtlety in this film — it’s a satire of the WBC, and it makes no effort to mask it behind any other meaning. Clerks 2, Chasing Amy, even Jersey Girl are all films about maturity and growing up, masked behind (somewhat vulgar) comedies. Yes, Red State has a chuckle or two in it, but it plays itself fairly seriously up until the end.

I’m glad Kevin Smith made Red State. Despite what you may think of it, or how some may dismiss it because it’s so unlike Smith’s other films, it still has “Kevin Smith” written all over it. It’s a different change of pace for him, expressing himself in a way he couldn’t do five or ten years ago. On a technical level, it’s his best work. Smith has a handle on practical special effects, where the camera should go and how it should move (aided by his long-time DP, David Klein), and his sound design has never been better. Even as an editor he’s paced the film tightly.

Few other directors would take such a risk. Steven Soderberg is one of the few big Hollywood-types to occasionally branch out to try something different (he’s made arthouse favorites The Girlfriend Experience and Che, while also doing movies like Contagion and the Ocean’s Eleven flicks). It is unfortunate that it took Smith two decades to reach this point, and that he’s set to self-retire from directing after Hit Somebody. I feel that, after viewing this, the world may be ready for the Second Coming of Kevin Smith. Once he’s gotten Red State off his chest, Kevin Smith may be able to take on any other film project.

Or maybe it’s best that he go out on top.

Kevin Smith even said himself that he has very little talent in directing. He considers himself a good writer and a great storyteller, but not a good director. For his sake, maybe hanging up the towel after completing his next passion project might be the best thing for him.

Either way, Red State is a film produced through sheer force of will. As Ghandi once said, “Full effort is full victory.” Smith wanted to tell this story. It got told. And he did it all his way. I respect the hell out of anyone that can pull that off, regardless of what the end result is.

September 27, 2011 at 4:29 pm 2 comments

September 2011
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