Movie ReviewsRating: 4 of 5 yaps
For months now, Kevin Smith has been telling us that the towns in which his “Red State U.S.A Tour” visits will run red. He’s also told us this is his second-to-last feature and instead wants to focus on what he perhaps does best — talk, as he focuses on with his shows on the Smodcast network.
When “Red State” visited Indianapolis, I did just what Mr. Smith wants all critics to do. I pulled out my wallet for a front-row seat to see if the film lived up to all the hype we’ve been hearing. Smith has been talking about how much he loves the film for months, and now it was time to put up or shut up.
“Red State” can be summed up by its tagline — “Three boys go into the woods looking for sex. Instead they find God.” Sure there’s a lot more dressing around it, but that is the core of the film and the event from which everything else splinters.
The film was produced on a small budget ($4 million), with a cast anchored by veteran actor Michael Parks. Parks is by far the best and most interesting element of this film. Primarily a character actor throughout his career, Parks steps into the spotlight as sinister minister Abin Cooper and never disappoints.
Parks is so believable as Cooper, it’s spooky. It’s a role to which the actor gives everything, and not once do you see any sign of the man himself. If not for his skewed beliefs, it’s easy to see why a congregation would follow him anywhere he chooses to lead.
The film begins with three high-school boys — Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun), Travis (Michael Angarano) and Jarod (Kyle Gallner) — heading into the woods after finding a woman online who will have sex with the trio. Along the way they sideswipe a car, which turns out to be the local sheriff, who’s up to some mischief himself, and flee the scene.
They find their way to the woman’s trailer, and after partaking in some tainted brews and blacking out, that’s when all hell — or, in this case, heaven — breaks loose.
The woman turns out to be Cooper’s daughter, Sara (Melissa Leo), who’s also a member of his Five Points Church, which is based on the real-life Westboro Baptist Church. You know, the fine folks who spend their time protesting funerals and such.
Smith has said he wonders what a group such as Westboro Baptist Church would do if it didn’t have any funerals to protest. With “Red State,” Smith answers that question with an answer that’s horrific, sinister and, for Cooper’s group, plausible. Whatever it takes to get the message out, my brother.
The boys find themselves held captive by Five Points, and when a local law enforcement officer is killed, the cavalry is called in. Thinking I would opt for some badass, muscle-bound Fed, Smith instead goes for America’s favorite dad — Dan Connor himself, John Goodman.
Goodman descends on the group, and when things go from bad to worse, and he receives his orders on how to handle the situation, he proves to not be the righteous right hand of God. Shit starts going in the same direction as another real-life standoff that happened down in Texas way nearly two decades ago.
In the end, the Lord delivers Cooper and his followers to Joseph Kennan (Goodman) in hilarious fashion once all the truths are revealed.
I’ll not hide the fact that I’ve been a Smith fan from day one. I’ve like all of his films, including “Jersey Girl,” with the exception of “Cop Out,” and I don’t believe the fault was with Smith on that one.
Going into “Red State” I had high hopes, and while the film is nowhere near perfect, it works on most levels and shows us a side of the director we’ve rarely seen. This is by far the most technical of all of Smith’s films and, as he’s said, it needed to be. This wasn’t two people talking back and forth; this movie required movement and we get our fill.
The film is well written, it has awesome action sequences and it has one helluva performance from Parks. I hope that since Smith will release the picture himself under the Smodcast Pictures banner, Parks’ performance doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. Parks never misses a beat — not once.
The only thing that really slows the movie down are the times when we’re told and not shown in some scenes. Smith’s strength has always been his writing, but with the exception of the ending scenes with Goodman, everything else could have been shown and eliminated the drag.
Also you’ll hear a lot about Parks’ long speech when we first meet Cooper. Smith cut the scene after the film’s premiere at Sundance, and I, for one, could have sat there and listened to Parks go on for days.
I feel a little robbed that Smith has decided to call it a career after his next feature. I believe him to be a talented director who’s just beginning to turn a corner into another dimension of his career and to call it quits at this point is either brave or insane.