Red State (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
19Oct/110

Red State (2011)

If I had to meet Popeye like this I might damn myself to Hell just to avoid spending eternity with him.

Kevin Smith hasn't lacked in subtlety since the beginning of his career.  This is the man who popularized the phrase, "My girlfriend sucked 37 dicks," and gave slackers a new set of heroes in the perpetually stoned Jay and Silent Bob.  He also went on to demonstrate just how dangerous cunnilingus can be and fought God with a shit-monster.  Nuance does not suit him.

This is part of why Red State is so damned entertaining.  On the scope of subtlety this is the same Kevin Smith we've always dealt with.  It's easy to see him pouring over the script with High Schoolers spouting off exchanges like "You don't think the three of us boning this woman in the same room is a little faggoty?" - "Jesus Christ man don't be so middle class".  What's not so easy to imagine is him taking what could be an ordinary sermon and turning it into a ritualistic murder.

Red State caused quite the kerfuffle earlier this year when Smith decided to end a bidding contest over his film with a dollar and tour the country with it.  An audacious move, to be sure, and one which signals a direction independent filmmakers might be able to take in the future.  I mention this because it's an audacious move, and because Smith knew he had something special with this film.  It's the first time in years I've felt the old spark of rebellion within him, even if it's taking pot-shots at a target so easily targetable as the Westboro Baptist Church.

The broadest sense of the plot is horror-based as three teens are lured from their idyllic middle-class lifestyles for the promise of sex from Sarah (Melissa Leo), who makes it very clear sex is the furthest thing from her mind.  They're quickly transported to a private church service where a homosexual man is executed in a very disturbing fashion after a fiery speech from Pastor Cooper (Michael Parks).  Shortly thereafter a good ol' fashioned stand-off starts between ATF Agent Keenan (a wonderfully exasperated John Goodman) and the Pastor-led cabal of hardcore Christians.

As inconsequential as they are dead. Too bad they have hormones.

These three plot-threads work almost independently of each other and i would by lying if I said they blended together seamlessly.  The low-key comedy of the first act is in stark contrast to the execution centerpiece of the second which is terribly silent in the face of the shoot-out that closes the third.  Only a bitter and bleak epilogue brings the film slightly back to the comedy of the first parts but it's not enough to ground it back into reality.

Which seems to be part of Smith's point.  His approach is to take the Westboro Baptist Church's stance on homosexuality on it's own terms and treat it with the same sense of absurdist escalation as they do.  Only they would be able to blame rampant heterosexual desire on the homosexuals are damning us all to hell.  Of course they are the church are the only ones who can save us from eternal fire and misery - who cares if they have to kill a few teenagers along the way?

Seems absurd seeing it up on the big screen though with all those guns huh?  But Smith is entirely aware we live in a world where abortion clinics are bombed in the name of "life" and tunes his movie in an appropriately realistic fashion.  The hand-held camera offers a sense of immediacy to the surroundings when Agent Keenan gets the opportunity to crack terrified jokes during a standoff and in less-tense moments such as a workout amongst High Schoolers where their private desires are made public, if not real.

Always a welcome presence.

The dramatic sense of escalation is appropriate given the subject matter, even if the pieces don't flow as well into the next as I might wish.  Beliefs are dangerous, Smith has gone on record many times saying this, and it's nice of his film to showcase this so directly.  I wish the culmination didn't come so early in the Pastor's speech about sin, which may be the best moment Smith has ever directed in light of the casual reveal of the poor helpless man.  But it's still a wickedly entertaining ride.

What you see with Red State is the joy of a filmmaker finally finding their groove again.  Entirely successful or no, it's the first completely engrossing film he's made in over 10 years.  Ballyhoo to you Mr. Smith, it's nice to be back amongst the converts, even if there's a certain irony to admitting this.

Red State (2011)
Written and directed by Kevin Smith.
Starring Melissa Leo, Michael Parks, and John Goodman.

Posted by Andrew

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