Every morning for the last few weeks, I’ve woken up, reached over to my ‘magical and revolutionary’ Apple device, checked the email, and then almost hurled it against the wall. This is because I was promised I would be sent Red State to review a long time ago, and I have been desperate to see it. Thankfully, it arrived yesterday, and my Steve Jobs sanctioned device remains unscathed.
Pretty much from the moment anyone outside of Red state‘s cast and crew saw this film, it has courted controversy, annoyed self-important film bloggers, and raised director Kevin Smith into the role of Indie films’ returning champion. The weird thing is, none of the above really has anything to do with the content of the film, more about the way it has been released.
Smith premiered Red State at Sundance earlier this year, and after promising a studio bidding war, purchased the film himself for $20, and is now touring the world with it self-promoting his work. His rationale seems pretty sound to me. Why make a a film for $4 million, and then have a studio drop $20 million to promote it, and then have to make $24 million back before you break-even…on a $4 million film? Adding to that, the people that watch Kevin Smith’s films, are Kevin Smith fans, most of which follow his Twitter feed, or listen to his huge network of podcasts. Why pay all that money to essentially advertise to a group of people that already know about the film, and it’s releases dates? Crazy town if you ask me.
Anyway, background aside, I think this is probably Smith’s best film since Dogma. “Really Ken?”; Really SittingNow readers, and here’s why:
Red State comprises of three very distinct parts; it begins in a very Hostel-esque fashion, with three kids going off to the woods to meet a lady they contacted on an online shagging site to lose their collective virginities, they then get kidnapped by a cult, and nasty things happen to them. During this part of the film, we meet Fred Phelps on steroids, or ‘Abin Cooper’ as he’s called in this film, played by the incredible Michael Parks (Dusk Till Dawn/Kill Bill), and his flock of would be Kool-Aid-drinkers. It turns out Cooper’s ‘Five Points Church’, are taking the law into their own hands, and are executing sinners after (Oscar worthy) sermons delivered by Cooper, in God’s name.
The film then takes a left turn, and becomes a Waco-influenced thriller/hostage film, pitting the newly introduced character ATF Agent Keenan, played by the fantastic John Goodman (Barton Fink/The Big Lebowski), against Cooper and his church; tension and gun-fights ensue.
In the third, but brilliantly executed, segment of the picture, Smith throws in a “ooohhh he’s not going to take it there is he” curve-ball, that, in my humble opinion, perfectly wraps up the picture, but I’m no spoiler of films, so you’ll have to just go and see it for yourself.
Red State is Kevin Smith’s love-letter to the films of Quentin Tarantino, and a complete departure from his normally dialogue-heavy comedic adventures. The picture looks, feels, and even moves unlike any previous offerings from the director, which is really apparent about half-way through the movie, when you suddenly remember that it’s a Kevin Smith film that you’re watching.
Of course, the picture isn’t perfect, it could certainly have done with tightening up a little bit in some parts, and it’s clearly low-budget, but this barely impacts on the overall tension and pace of the film.
All in all, this film is a thoroughly enjoyable dark-thriller, that takes the viewer down many forking paths. Goodman and Parks bring their A-game, with fantastic and mesmerising performances, and Director of photography Dave Cline surpasses himself, bringing a combination of gorgeously shot, and perfectly placed hand-held shots that add to the overall uneasiness present throughout.
The true hero of the picture is Smith himself, who has proven to be a diverse, and credible ‘all-rounder’ in the directors chair. He will, no-doubt, be slung arrows by critics who (regardless of the content) have it in for him. But true fans of film will ignore that anal posturing, and just enjoy Red State for what it is, a really, truly enjoyable piece of cinema.