Kevin Smith’s latest flick RED STATE might have a higher body count than all of his other films combined, which isn’t exactly something he’s known for in his career, but it’s still a decidedly Kevin Smith movie in many ways. Taking on the topics of fanaticism and intolerance, RED STATE is a shades of gray picture that points the fingers in all directions. In a small mid-western town, there is a family of religious extremists that led by Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), a fire-and-brimstone minister who preaches the extreme and violent aspects of the bible. Abin and his clan take things to a whole other level as they kidnap and kill those they deem sinners. Eventually the feds show up and all hell breaks loose leading some on both sides to wonder, who really is the bad guy here?
Smith is really at the top of his game here, showing exactly what he’s learned from being in the business of making movies for almost 20 years. The editing (also done by Kevin who does triple-duty as writer, director, and editor) is really well done, mixing typical action with cuts with some obviously Tarantino inspired slow builds and lingering shots. One of the reasons why the editing is so tight might have to do with how the movie was edited, almost immediately as the movie was shot, leaving little time second guessing scene edits and getting a more pure and immediate view of the work. It’s a good example of editing with your gut, and keeping your vision (and budget) tight by not wasting time on the things you know will just end up on the cutting room floor anyway. The pacing of the film is a little awkward, but perhaps it’s just because the viewer knows what’s coming, and the anticipation for the firefight outweighs the build up (Shakespeare was good at this as well…Yes, Kevin Smith was just compared to Shakespeare).
Over the years Smith has had the opportunity to work with man cinematic legends like Alan Rickman in DOGMA (which is consider RED STATE to be the spiritual sequel of, illustrating what happens when belief is taken to an extreme level), Bruce Willis in COP OUT, Michael Rooker in MALLRATS, and yes, even Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. In this film though we’re treated to performances from Michael Parks (FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, KILL BILL VOL. 1 & 2) who is haunting as Abin Cooper. The intensity of his performance is just something you can’t get out of 99% of young Hollywood. A man with Parks’ resume has had years to prepare for a character like this, and he brings it with a fiery vengeance and a single mindedness that reminds the viewer that people like his character do exist, and some of them are just a couple “signs from God” away from trying to cleanse the rest of us from the planet. John Goodman’s ATF agent Joseph Keenan could have easily been written as a one-dimensional cliche of the typical fed seen in most movies. Goodman instead portrays a complex character dealing with the morality of his actions as he receives orders to eliminate what the government considers a terrorist threat. The way John speaks through his character, you can really hear the Kevin Smith voice come through, and hear his influence in the way Goodman delivers his lines. To say that Goodman’s performance was anything short of epic would be an understatement. The emotion in his character’s eyes as he struggles with his morals and his orders is something that draws the audience in and brings them into the fight as well. Smith does a great job with the other actors as well, giving each character on both sides of the fight their moment, Melissa Leo (THE FIGHTER, 21 GRAMS), Kevin Pollak (THE USUAL SUSPECTS, CASINO), and even his wife Jennifer Schwalbach are all portrayed as human beings either caught defending their family and way of life, to defending the American people against the Cooper’s extremist views.
There are a couple things that could be said against this movie. The scene of Cooper’s sermon goes on for way longer than it needs to (something similar that Kevin Smith has ranted about on his Smodcast regarding the 1st installment of the final Harry Potter film as the kids were sitting around in the forest for more than 20 minutes of the movie). Most people will also attack the ending, saying that it’s less satisfying than what “should” have happened, but there are really only two ways this film could have ended. Smith may have chosen the ending he did specifically because it will leave the audience questioning it long after the house lights have gone up. As Kevin begins to pull the curtain down on his own career, RED STATE is a fitting reminder why he’s had staying power in this industry for so many years, it’s because he himself, and the people he puts on the screen, are all compelling characters.
RED STATE Review
FILM SYNOPSIS - Set in Middle America, a group of teens receive an online invitation for sex, though they soon encounter fundamentalists with a much more sinister agenda.