Film review: Red State
Director Kevin Smith isn't one for avoiding controversy. When he released Dogma in 1999 for instance – a film about two fallen angels who discovered a loophole which meant they could return to heaven – Smith allegedly received 300,000 pieces of hate mail; the majority of which, the director claims, were death threats.
With Smith once again exploring religious themes, the only way he seems to know how, he can probably expect yet another delivery of unpleasant mail with his latest release.
Whilst at school, Travis (Michael Angarano), Jarod (Kyle Gallner) and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) all have one thing on their mind, and it isn't algebra. Through an app on one of their phones, they discover that there's a woman willing to have sex with all three of them, in their local area. Despite sounding like the offer is too good to be true, they decide to check it out anyway.
They finally make it to their destination; a trailer in a quiet part of Cooper's Dell. They're greeted by the nervous looking Sara (Melissa Leo), who insists that everyone has to have at least two beers before any hanky panky can get started. Eager to please, the boys sup up as quickly as they can.
It transpires that the beer they were given had more than just alcohol in it because the next thing they know, Travis and Billy-Ray find themselves tied up in a basement, while Jarod is confined to a small cage at the front of a small church congregation .
This is no regular church however; this is the house of the Five Points Trinity Church, run by preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). And Cooper and his clan have pretty severe punishments for sinners, and it will take more than prayers to save this trio, that's for sure.
After years of staying in his slacker comfort zone, Smith seems to be keen on exploring other genres in his middle age. His last film Cop Out starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan was a comic buddy cop flick that certainly misfired with audiences. This time though, Smith has decided to go all out Tarantino.
For the most part he pulls it off too, with some well-crafted set pieces and one or two plot curve balls. He also embraces a fair few unsteady-cam shots that help maintain the film's tension and edginess.
Although the premise is virtually a blueprint of the Waco siege of '93, Smith does enough with the material to keep audiences on their toes.
It's great that he's also mixing it up on the casting front, particularly with getting John Goodman heavily involved as Deputy Sherriff Joseph keenan. Oscar winner (for The Figher) Melissa Leo also puts in a pleasantly manic performance, although she does seem to be at odds with what her hair is doing throughout.
And although Parks is solid enough as the crazed preacher, Smith does in places give him just too much to do; particularly in one scene where his character is delivering a sermon that feels like it takes up half of the film. From a creative point of view, it's clear that Smith used it to slow the pacing right down, before slamming his foot on the gas. The problem is that the diatribe goes on for so long that it completely messes with the film's overall rhythm.
Some could argue that elements of the script feel a touch disjointed, but it's fair to say that the disjointedness actually adds to the sense of not quite knowing what the hell is going to happen next.
There's no question that certain religious groups are going to go postal on him (as it were), but if Smith isn't offending someone with his films, he's probably doing something wrong.
Has he out Tarantino'd Tarantino? Not by a long shot. But he has delivered something that you would never expect of him. It may be far from perfect, but kudos to Smith for having gotten his ample arse off of that comfy couch of his and created a thrilling edgy film.
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