Red State Review
By Bret Dorman
Kevin Smith. The man behind vulgar movies such as Clerks (Snowballing), Mallrats (Stink Palm), Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (The Entire Movie), and Clerks 2 (PickleFucker). He’s had some Q&A’s available on DVD where he also tells some great stories about ‘The Biz’. Especially this one about Superman (and the ‘punchline’ is not only hilarious, but sheds some insight on another famous movie and something that happens in its third act):
That clip is a little long maybe, but really shows that Kevin Smith can tell a story. That’s not the part that surprised me about Red State. It’s the fact that he used vulgar language in a real way and not just for laughs and the subject material he chose.
Also, I don’t want to go into the politics of Movie Watching and The Behind The Scenes stuff… But /Film has a really great article on Red State and it’s ‘revolutionary’ way at self-distribution that is really interesting. http://www.slashfilm.com/kevin-smith-buys-film-sundance-auction-swears-distributors-announces-full-details-selfdistribution/
The Story: Three horny teenage boys, A well armed Anti-Gay Church, and the ATF all somehow get involved in one big misunderstanding. Also, Ralph Garmin from the podcast Hollywood Babble-On (hosted by Ralph Garmin and Kevin Smith) is great and whatnot!
If you don’t know that much about Red State I suggest going in cold (Something I often will say about any movie). The movie is meant to deal with difficult issues but never becomes a crusade of right vs wrong. It just takes certain very opinionated characters and gives them opportunities to interact in various ways.
A lot of people are calling this a horror movie. I’m not quite so sure that fits. Sure it has some horror elements, especially the first half, but then it sharply turn into Heat-esque territory where a bunch of coincidences bring different people together over a heated confrontation. This movie uses some horror conventions to get the idea started and set things in motion, but overall its a sort of story you would expect from an A&E ‘What Really Happened’ Documentary, only really well put together.
What could be considered a detriment to the film is that it never really fleshes out its characters and is more concerned with the plot. But with the kids (played by Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun, and Kyle Gallner), they are just three average small town horny kids. That’s all you need to know. And you know people like them I’m sure.
Michael Parks and Melissa Leo play Abin and Sarah Cooper, father and daughter, who really don’t like gay people and fear God. The performances were good in that they weren’t really villainous in an over the top way, but just how plainly and seriously they believed what they were doing really was right. Abin has a sermon to give and it does shed some normal ‘scripture says God doesn’t like gay people’ light into his views but I was left wanting a little more.
John Goodman as the ATF agent Joseph Keenan was really good at just playing a normal dude who is good at his job but also has a conscious. His character does a lot of talking and explaining but has a few moments of badassness as well.
Red State is designed to get you mad over things you already get mad over and reinforces typical stereotypes in typical ways. This movie tells its story well and is Smith’s most impressive work visually, but overall the words are strung together nice but don’t have as much impact as I think Smith had hoped. For trying to confront some tough issues the characters do skirt around them a little. Making a movie where Anti-Gay Uber Religious Gun Freaks are the villains isn’t too daring. But trying to humanize them and having other characters reject their forgiveness could be.
Some people might say The Sheriff (good ol’ Stephen Root) being ‘gay’ or the Deputy (Matt Jones) showing up at the compound or the ATF being called in or any of the small ‘coincidences’ of this movie are contrived but I don’t think so. In fact, other than having the Sheriff out for a quickie and parked in the side of the road and getting hit by the boys, everything else kind of falls into place perfectly. And that one small event of the hit and run is used well to set the rest of the action off later in the movie.
The government agents at the end were great. They took the normal ‘The Government is the bad guy’ stereotype and turned it on its head. Its funny how they are kind of good guys for locking up Parks for life by exploiting the Patriot Act because… “Fuck ’em.” In every other movie its made so the government exploits things to good guys but here they set their eyes on someone truly bad and use the same tactics that always get them in trouble.
As far as that scene goes, at first I though it was kind of a Cop Out (Hey! That’s a Kevin Smith movie too!) to just cut to Keenan as he explained away everything else that happened. But you know what? Its a Kevin Smith movie. His forte is dialogue. And it would be too much and too confusing to visually show where the story went. At first I was really excited by the horn and what Smith might have done with the movie. I honestly though God Himself might actually show up. But it was just some kids.
John Goodman has a line where at the end he says ‘whatnot’ (a phrase Smith says often) and ultimately a bunch of pot heads are the heroes and their case is alluded to being thrown out/forgiven. To me, that’s Kevin Smith’s views. Let’s be nice to each other and not pick on the pot heads and what not.
I liked the scene where Cheyenne (Kerry Bishe) is trying to plead with Jarod (Gallner) that her and the little kids are going to die if he doesn’t help them and he just says ‘Fuck You.’ I would have liked for him to confront her more. Also, Travis (Angarano) doesn’t use the machine gun to save his friend? Instead he just runs away. I get why he does it and you could chalk it up to Horror Cliches that he can’t ‘kill the villain’ but come on… one friend they killed and one they are about to kill.
In Conclusion, Red State is a really well told story of coincidences and unexpected events that never feels contrived. What I did want to see in this was more in your face stuff, but not from the ‘gore’ or ‘violence’ aspect. Kevin Smith took on religion in Dogma and used common sense and a shit-monster to poke some holes into it. Here, he takes the easy way out by making the religious nut bags violent murderers as well.
Final Grade: B+