Red State is like no other film that Kevin Smith has made so far. If anything, it actually feels more like the kind of film that Kevin Smith should be making; raw, gritty, slyly funny and with an underlying message.
I was one of the people who got caught up in the hype of Kevin Smith. I saw (and loved) Dogma and was equally as impressed with Clerks. Like many people, the more Smith I watched, the more disappointed I began to be and his movies stopped being events anymore. It took me a while to get round to seeing Red State but it actually shines with some of the Smith magic that made him such a name in the first place.
It has a realism to it that always made his movies so relatable but isn’t about an “everyday life” event like Clerks or Mallrats. Red State follows a group not too dissimilar to the Westborough Baptist Church but much more extreme (Westborough are quoted as having distanced themselves from this church’s actions).
These places do exist and Smith showcases the more extreme cases, without having to refer to extreme gore or “torture porn” visuals that he could have very easily delved into. It also helps that he has some fantastic performances that really bring the movie to life. The stand-out star is Michael Parks, who plays the leader of the church, Abin Cooper. He throws himself into the role, with all manic desire and actions that it requires.
His counterpart is John Goodman, the cop brought in, almost by accident, to deal with actions of the church when one of their services “goes wrong.” He is disillusioned, cynical and matter of fact in a way that we haven’t really seen Goodman play for a while. It shows that he needs to play it more straight and get back to the big screen in bigger parts.
The story isn’t a straight-forward one either. There are many facets to it, stopping it from being a straight horror, action or thriller that it could have devolved into. It’s sharply written, with some great moments and pure surprises that showcase Smith’s wry talent for decent writing and delivering a good story.
It loses some of it’s way towards the end though and it feels like after a great, tense set-up, Smith wasn’t sure how to end the movie. Though unusual, the ending is slightly crazy and weird. It does deliver a great moment during a debrief that could be a whole film in itself.
Overall, Red State demonstrates Kevin Smith’s talents like none of his recent movies has managed to. Its interesting, brilliantly acted and delivers a solid, interesting and in some cases controversial story that echoes aspects of Dogma. It isn’t too horrific, too silly or just action focuses but manages to include all three. Dodgy ending aside, a return to form for the slightly overrated director.
Rating – 3.5
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