Friday, 30 September 2011

Red State

The Five Points Trinity Church is an independent Christian church known for their extreme views on homosexuality and regularly protest at funerals, while they all reside in their own fenced-off sanctuary known as Cooper’s Dell. Meanwhile, three high school kids are all looking to get laid. Jared finds a woman on the internet who says she’ll sleep with him, Travis and Billy Ray all at the same time. They go to meet her in a trailer in the woods, but as they prepare for their sexual awakening, they all pass out, and wake up to find themselves deep in the heart of Cooper’s Dell...

I am, unashamedly, a MASSIVE Kevin Smith fan. I’ve seen all of his films and own all but a couple of them on DVD. I follow him on Twitter. I’m an avid listener to the Smodcast Podcast Network of podcasts. I even find the time to listen to Smodcast Internet Radio every day to listen to him and his wife do his live daily breakfast show... at 4pm. So, naturally, I’ve followed the creation and conception of this film, his most radically different to date, from the faux-auction publicity stunt at Sundance to the Westboro Baptist Church protests to the self-distribution release to the Red State Q&A tour. This month, the film was released on VOD in America and finally received a proper cinematic release both here and the US. Well thank the lord I’ve finally seen it, because it is epic.

I won’t lie; I’ve been looking forward to this film the most this year. This was the 2011 film I wanted to see, more than Green Lantern or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which I am still eagerly awaiting), and my God has this lived up to the hype. This film is, for lack of a better word, insane. It is the most un-Kevin Smith ‘Kevin Smith’ film yet. It starts off like a proper Kevin Smith film, mind, with teenagers looking for sex, but then the film turns into a real drama focusing on the Five Points Trinity Church, a church with scarily similar views to those of the Phelps family from the Westboro Baptist Church. Then, it turns again into a gun-wielding, bullet spraying action film for the final third before rounding things up neatly. I’ll try not to spoil this as much as I can, because the less you know about the plot going into this, the more surprised you will be by this. As soon as you think you know where it’s going, it flips your expectations on their head and takes you somewhere completely different.

At the core of this are two scarily phenomenal performances from the two leads: Michael Parks and Melissa Leo. Leo filmed this before she won her Oscar, so that wasn’t in her head, allowing her to focus on giving a fantastic performance as the creepy and devoted Sarah Cooper. However, the stand out is Parks as Abin Cooper, head of the church. He delivers every line with conviction and realism that you believe in the character and you believe he truly believes in the religious dogma he constantly spouts. In particular, at one point, Parks delivers a near 10 minute monologue which is just incredible to watch. John Goodman turns up as ATF agent Keenan and does well in a well-written, realistic role. Kerry Bishé also does well in her role as a member of the Cooper clan, as does a mute Ralph Garman and an intimidating James Parks. The kids all do well but aren’t anything truly special, and besides, it’s the Cooper’s Dell clan who all steal the show.

At the centre of this film is a sharply written script by Smith, something which was lacking from his last outing Cop Out, the first and only film where Smith was a director for hire. It’s a satire that clearly takes its cues from the Phelps’, but it’s also a horror as Smith takes it in a far more extreme direction whilst still retaining utterances of classic Smith dialogue and jokes about pussy and sex. There are an ungodly number of fucks used in the film, as every character seems intent on repeating it over and over again as if to overstate the importance of each scene, whether it’s through fright or frustration or liberation of self. Don’t let that fool you though; listen past the profanities and you’ll hear some smart dialogue delivered by master technicians. It’s clever, it’s funny, it’s pointed, and at times it’s downright scary. Most of all, it’s engrossing and engaging. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from it for a second, you end up not wanting to in fear you’ll miss something because Smith throws everything but the kitchen sink at you for the short 88 minutes it takes him to tell the story.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a few faults with is. The editing is all over the place, with the faster rapid cuts seeming unnecessary and don’t fit in the film, but the slower edits with longer shots between cuts add to the tension and suspense and work well. It does seem to rush through its events quickly given the running time, there could have been a lot more time spent on certain scenes throughout the film. Also, while some of the characters are fully developed, most aren’t, and a lot of them aren’t given any dialogue, and just go through the film mute, which is an odd choice, given Smith’s particular way with words. In most other cases, I’d let little hang ups like this spoil my enjoyment of a movie, and yet I thoroughly enjoyed Red State despite all of this, which shows just how good a film this truly is.

Overall, I realise I say this as a completely biased Kevin Smith fan, but my god is this good. It is so unexpected, and that’s what makes this so good. Considering his back catalogue, this film has comes out of absolutely nowhere and surprised even the most hardened fans of his like myself. Considering I’ve been keeping up to date with the production of this film, I probably knew what to expect more than others, but it still surprised me as to where it went and how it went about it. I’ll also say that it’ll be a crime if Michael Parks at the very least isn’t considered for top awards for his performance here; it’s truly an outstanding piece of work from both him and Smith. Smith has well and truly pulled it out the bag, and given that this is due to be his second to last film, I can only hope that the kind of quality he’s produced here carries forward onto Hit Somebody, his planned last movie. There are faults with the film, it doesn’t explore the issues raised but rather exploits them for its own means, but it earns a stellar review by subverting my expectations constantly and by being his best film in years, possibly even ever. I urge you to watch this for yourselves and be converted.

Rating: *****