September 3 2011

Red State Review – 3 Movies in One

Red State movie posterThe pseudo-horror film Red State may be the finest film director Kevin Smith has made, but also his most infuriating at the same time.

Set in the fictional location of Cooper’s Dell, Red State tells the story of Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) and his Five Points Church; a group so radical that even Neo-Nazis have distanced themselves from the congregation as we learn very early on in the film.  It seems that pastor Cooper and his congregation have come to the conclusion that it is time they hasten the coming of the Rapture, and help God to sort out the sinners from the faithful.  They lure the evil people into their fold with promises of fulfilling their carnal desires, and then take care of ushering these evildoers to their greater reward.

What appears above is the most simplistic explanation of the connecting thread of this film, but there are so many concepts circulating around the edges that you could never precisely do a summary of it without spoiling a ton of the story.  And that, sadly, is what keeps me from saying I love this movie as opposed to just liking it.

I am an unabashed fan of Kevin Smith.  Even since the first time I watched Clerks – his 1990’s ode to slacker/service industry culture – I have followed every move of this man’s career, and to this day I listen to hours of podcasts he produces each week, but even I can admit when things go slightly awry with his work.  Red State is an ambitious film filled with ideas, theories, proclamations and acting moments that will leave you amazed.  It is also the next to last film of Smith’s career, and that seems to make it suffer somewhat.  Smith was clearly overflowing with ideas he could base around the Cooper family, but instead of focusing on just one or two, he essentially ended up making three vignettes that were strung together and clocked in at under 90 minutes.  The frantic pacing of some scenes left you puzzled as other scenes were given a tremendous amount of breathing room such as Michael Parks fantastic sermon scene.  You would then speed through other story points to leap to another mesmerizing scene from John Goodman or Kerry Bishé.  Smith knew he had some fantastic material and talent on his hands, but he seemed unsure of how to fit it all into one neat little package without sacrificing other moments.

From a directing standpoint, this is is clearly his most mature film.  This is no longer the film school kid trying his hand at making a movie in a convenience store, this is a seasoned veteran who has grown up and acquired more faith in his own talents.  When he isn’t racing you from one scene to another, when he allows the actors to perform they’re craft, you are in for a treat that makes the entire film worth it.  All of the onscreen talent is at the top of their games here, and considering how the majority of them took next to no pay to help bring this film in on a budget of $4 million, it is all that more impressive.

As I watched the film, I quickly realized that there was really enough material here for three films, and Smith also seemed to realize it as evidenced by the fact the end credits are broken into three sections: Sex, Religion and Politics.  Perhaps if the film had even a slightly longer running time, or Smith had found a way to cut one of the three sections – Sex could have easily been trimmed to expand the other two – this would have been one of my all time favorite films, but instead I found myself just really liking it as opposed to loving it.

And that is where I need to clarify myself to you, the reader.  Despite everything I have said here, I still recommend this film, but as someone who has followed it’s creation from day one, I was left wanting more.  Going into this movie with no knowledge as my mom and dad, they both loved it, and both thought it was Smith’s best film to date.  As someone who is rabid in his love of all things Smith, I know what it could have been, and that just left me at the level of “like” as opposed to “love.”

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