The latest movie from writer-director Kevin Smith is, for those of you who have remained unaware, something radically different from anything that he’s done before. Described by some (including Smith himself) as a horror movie, I would disagree. But it’s certainly a powerful and disturbing film that packs a punch with almost every moment of the lean runtime.
Three young lads (played by Kyle Gallner, Michael Angarano and Nicholas Braun) arrange to meet a woman who wants to get up to all kinds of naughtiness with them but, unfortunately for them, it’s a trap. They instead find themselves trapped within the confines of the Five Points Church, a fundamentalist religious organisation led by the dangerous Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). Events quickly escalate, due to an investigating policeman hearing some gunfire, and it’s not long until there’s a violent face-off between the church and a number of armed officials (led by John Goodman).
People who criticised the superb Dogma never seemed to grasp that it wasn’t attacking religious beliefs or personal lifestyle choices but was instead focusing on the arrogance of people who interpret those beliefs to justify their own, selfish actions. Those same people may hate Red State but, let’s be clear here, this movie is not attacking religion. It is taking a look at what people can be forced to do when led by someone who instils a sense of righteousness in them, it is taking a look at dangerous fundamentalism and it is also taking a look at an American government which can make just as many incorrect decisions while also believing itself to be completely in the right.
The movie is a difficult watch, especially in the first 20 minutes or so which spends a lot of time forcing audiences to listen to the preaching of Abin Cooper before things get more horrific, but it’s also an important one. It’s a film that provokes thought and discussion (even the offscreen events, namely the (in)famous auction controversy that followed the debut screening at Sundance – Smith purchased the movie himself and went down the road of self-distribution) and it’s one that shows both a terrible aspect of human nature and also a helpless inability to properly deal with it.
I think that Smith himself has said as a director he makes one hell of a good writer but here he shows that he’s obviously developed over the years. Yes, the focus is very much on the power of the dialogue but the camera does get to move around quite a bit and is always in the perfect position or moving cycle to capture discussions, confrontations and bloodshed.
The role of Abin Cooper was written with Michael Parks in mind and the man takes the role and wrings every drop of opportunity he can from it. This is the role of his career. Cooper is a loathsome, deranged man but there’s also something undeniably, and worryingly, charming about him. He can play up to an audience, he loves his “children” and he commands attention even while saying the most abhorrent things. On the other side of the coin is John Goodman, playing an agent who is given some sickening orders by his superiors. Goodman is equally mesmerising onscreen, saying what he needs to say with authority and showing a vast range of emotions in his hangdog countenance while all around him the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket. Kyle Gallner, Michael Angarano and Nicholas Braun are all excellent as the three scared young lads caught up in the midst of things while Kerry Bishe, Ralp Garman, Melissa Leo and everyone else playing a church member is one hundred percent convincing. There’s also room for small turns from Stephen Root, Kevin Pollak, Kevin Alejandro and Molly Hagan.
Red State is a movie that I think everyone should see. It falls just short of perfection but you owe it to yourself to see two of the best performances of the year in a movie that’s unforgettable.
Red State is in UK cinemas from 30th September.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: KEVIN SMITH
STARS: MICHAEL PARKS, JOHN GOODMAN, KYLE GALLNER, MELISSA LEO, KERRY BISHE, MICHAEL ANGARANO, NICHOLAS BRAUN
RUNTIME: 88 MINS APPROX