Notable Cast: Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman, Stephen Root, Kevin Pollak, Kyle Gallner, Michael Angarano
Review: I love Kevin Smith because he wears his opinions right on his sleeve. There is no filter between his brain and mouth that waters down comments. While this gets him into hot water at times by offending certain groups of radicals, the rest of us moral-less entertainment hounds get to reap the benefits of his “say anything” attitude. I imagine Red State being conceived out of some Kevin Smith rant, saying something along the lines of “You know who are really a bunch of bat-sh*t lunatics? Extremist, right-wing, bible-thumping, gay-bashing Jesus-freaks.” Boom, you have Red State. The film marks Smith’s first venture outside of comedy, although in a twisted way he still gets his off-beat humor across. You would think such a skilled writer as Smith making a Coen brothers-esque situation couldn’t be anything but a sure-fire win, but Red State is not without fault. The question is, can “that Kevin Smith” make us only remember the unhealthy devotion blind faith can lead some to?
Living in a town where the nightly activities include cow tipping, three friends are looking to shake things up. When Jarod (Gallner) finds an online service for connecting sexual partners, he brings it to friends Travis (Angarano) and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun). Just their luck, the trio find a user just in their back yard, and decide to make a night out of the devilish deed. But when the boys meet up with their partner, things go horribly awry. She drugs them all to the point of unconsciousness, and one by one the kids wake up to the sound of an old preacher giving a sermon. Turns out they were duped into showing intent to commit sin, and are now being held hostage by a famous group of fundamentalists who believe all sinners should be exterminated from the earth. Scared for their lives, the boys panic and to try to escape. Meanwhile, ATF Agent Joseph Keenan (Goodman) is ordered to take the house from the outside in, unbeknownst to them three civilian teenagers are trapped inside. Following the three major groups, we see a struggle for survival in each character from their own point of view.
Michael Parks showing just how dangerous charisma and ideology can be together…
Stepping outside from the film itself, you have to commend Smith for his plan of attack with Red State. First, the Westboro Baptist Church congregation came out of the woodwork to protest the film for mocking God and his servants, stating Smith will clearly be burning in hell. Yes, these are the same people who show up to gay children’s funerals to make sure everyone knows the “sinner” is on his way to hell, aka the exact people Red State was created to bash. So, what does Smith do in reaction? Holds his own protest of the protestors right across the street. Publicity while making a point? Check. Then, he drops the bombshell that Red State will be touring instead of going wide release, selling out halls while pricing tickets much higher because you get Kevin Smith himself at the end. But of course this doesn’t balance out the fact that instead of being shown on thousands of screens nation wide, for now Red State would only be seen in one place at one time every so often. Then, goes goes with the VOD medium before getting a theatrical release, giving his product to the masses in the easiest way possible. Smith also smartly knew studios would never do the film justice, probably shafting the marketing campaign and giving it a limited release. Zack and Miri Make A Porno suffered the mistake of an almost non-existent marketing campaign, and extremely poor numbers were the result. Smith made a bold but right choice by essentially releasing Red State himself, and this also becomes one big testament to how much Smith really cares and is willing to invest in his work.
But enough gushing about the genius himself. Red State is a cleverly written enough script, but falls into certain unnecessary plot points that don’t matter. As I said, the film does a fantastic job not only lampooning uber religious freak jobs, but pokes just as much fun at our governmental response. Red State tells it as it is, and doesn’t hold back to do so. I was engrossed by the story, and invested in these obscure characters. Smith’s writing channeled some of his best work here script wise, as he was able to make something like a drawn out preacher rant into this gripping and intense scene that reveals so much insanity about the situation. Red State so fit Smith’s style of film, but as I said had this very Coen brother’s feel to it. Little things like killing characters for seemingly no reason, having a story that makes you question who the villain really is, and throwing every situation into a “what can go wrong will go wrong scenario” played out as the recent Burn After Reading did. But as Red State presses on, you begin to appreciate how intelligent of a script Smith wrote, and just how hilariously ballsy he can be.
None, and I mean NONE of this could have been done without Michael Park’s fantastic rendition of church leader Abin Cooper though. You watch Parks through the entire sermon scene when the boy’s are first caught, and from the start all you can focus on is how bad this demented preacher is killin’ it. What made the character of Cooper so frightening was the charisma he did possess, coming off more as clever than just a crazy old man. Parks depicts how these religious cult leaders are able to talk their way into the minds of their congregation so well it was disturbing. Cooper was on the same level as a Charles Manson or Jim Jones, and proved to be hands down the most memorable character of the film.
What Smith has created with Red State is a tight thriller with a heavy-handed bias, but the reality of the situation also cannot be ignored. His writing does get long-winded at times though, as scenes are dragged out longer than necessary just to get more dialogue in. But when the flurry of action kicks in and all plans go to hell, Red State does everything in its power to keep you guessing. For me, this was a refreshing gasp of air, as I’m sick and tired of “thrillers” just playing it safe. Red State is as dangerous as the strength of the film, Abin Cooper, himself. Not to downplay the other star power in the film, but Parks’ radical preaching outshines them all. If you don’t like Smith’s writing to begin with, Red State won’t be a winner. But if you love all those intricacies of a Smith script; between realistic conversation, obscure references, and opinionated beliefs, then Red State will take you to the promise land.
Final Rating: 7.5 trumpet blasts from the heavens out of 10
How must it feel to look out into a sea of people, knowing they’re just puppets and you can pull any string?