Reviewed by Kalebson
Starring Melissa Leo, John Goodman, Michael Parks, Kyle Gallner
Directed by Kevin Smith
“If a man also lie with mankind, as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be on them.” Leviticus 20:13
Making its premiere at Sundance 2011, and without question the most controversial film to appear in the festival, is Kevin Smith’s self-distributed Red State, the movie that Smith boasts was written in three days, somewhat re-written two years later, and inspired by an interview with Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church. Smith also states that it was made completely on a dare from Malcolm Ingram, a friend of his and director of Small Town Gay Bar. Due to its content protesters and anti-protesters gathered outside the theatre on the night of its premiere. Protesters were spitting out scripture with anti-protesters singing songs by Queen and The Village People. I was happy to be one of the circa 1,700 attendees that actually had the pleasure of seeing the film while at the prestigious event.
Red State is very linear and told in three sections — sex, religion, and politics. This straightforward progression helped to make it feel a bit more realistic and easy to follow. We see a bit of the religious sect in the opening act as they are protesting the funeral for a gay man who was murdered. This was more or less there for shock value and to show just how menacing these people can be.
Following the funeral scene, three teenagers (Kyle Gallner, Michael Angarano, and Nicholas Braun) set a date with what they think is a beautiful woman from an online dating (sex) service, in which she offers to take all three of them on simultaneously. After a small fender-bender on the way, they arrive at their “date’s” (Melissa Leo) mobile home, drink a couple of beers, and then pass out after being drugged. From there the trio is taken to the Five Points Trinity Church led by Pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). Once the teens awaken from their slumber, they realize that they’re about to get a different type of fucked as they see a man being violently persecuted for being gay.
This is the moment that we first get to see the Pastor in all his mad glory, telling us how God hates gays and going on about how they all need to be put to death. Not just gays, however … anyone that would have a gang-bang is on their hate list as well. That is how the Cooper clan view the scripture cited in the opening. Following the sermon two of our unlucky protagonists decide to attempt an escape, but are … let’s just say, unsuccessful.
Now that shots have been fired, the ATF gets the green-light to get involved. The team is headed up by Joseph Kennan (John Goodman), who is ordered to eliminate the Cooper clan by whatever means necessary as they are now officially being viewed as a terrorist cell. A vicious firefight ensues in the final act that can be compared to the intensity of the opening of The Devil’s Rejects. The finale may have been slightly anti-climactic but does manage to wrap up the package all neat and tidy like.
Most of the performances are fantastic, especially Goodman, Leo, and Parks. As a matter of fact Michael Parks is just frightening in his role. His voice has more than enough intensity to fill the shoes of Pastor Cooper. Goodman is also very believable in his role having to judge right and wrong in a situation that is completely out of control. But Melissa Leo gets my vote as Sarah Cooper. Her fanaticism with her daughter in the final act is reminiscent of when Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek went at it in the classic film Carrie.
The lighting and filters used for the film are a little different than we are used to seeing from Smith, and his use of the RED camera is also a nice touch. What makes the biggest impact, though, is the soundtrack, if you can call it a soundtrack. Michael Parks singing hymns throughout the movie gives force to the needed dark and gloomy atmosphere.
Overall one can say that Smith has a taken a step in the right direction with Red State. As stated earlier, the linear approach to Red State‘s storyline makes the film feel natural and realistic, albeit slow moving. Depending on your perspective of religion, homosexuality, and politics, you may see Red State in a different light. I will say that the man sitting next to me was gay, and he found himself in tears more than once. The audience was for the most part silent, possibly humbled at what they were seeing. It is definitely worth a watch, but I am not sure that the coming tour with its inflated ticket prices is the best option.
Remember this … people do strange things when they think they are entitled; they do even stranger things when they just believe.
3 1/2 out of 5
Discuss Red State in the comments section below!