Kevin Smith has always brought a certain level of serious societal criticism to his films, whether it be a his hilarious romp through the fallacies of organized religion in Dogma or his clearly autobiographical look at lost love in Chasing Amy. Smith, however, always manages to keep his films staunchly comedic endeavors, rarely going wholly dramatic in his approach. This fact is what helped to make his newest film Red State something completely out of the ordinary. Instead of being a comedic film with dashes of drama, Smith's 2011 film is the complete opposite and its very much an action/drama film that is light on its comedic hits. One could quickly assume that a director completely stepping out of his comfort zone would produce dire results, yet to my surprise Red State is a very watchable film. It will never make the short list for the best Kevin Smith films by any means, but it is an excellent change of pace for the director, particularly given his apparent decreasing relevance to contemporary indie discourse. Regardless, the film is fully realized and a fresh take for Kevin Smith, not to mention given its clearly liberal leanings it was not entirely difficult for me to enjoy its scathing attack on the illogical horrors exacted by religious fundamentalist extremism.
Red State is rather bizarre in its plot, but one that seems entirely possible in American society. The initial portion of the film focuses on three boys Travis (Michael Angarano), Randy (Ronnie Connell) and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) who are unpopular in their high school, making their quest to get laid seemingly impossible. This quest is overshadowed by their community dealing with the absurd protest of the Five Points Trinity Church at a recently murdered gay student's funeral. Despite this, the boys are able to chase down a possible sexual encounter via a craigslist style website for sex. Planning ahead, the group is able to get one of their parents car and travel to the location in the country outside of their small suburban town. On the way to the encounter, they accidentally sideswipe a car which is occupied by the town sheriff and a gay prostitute. In a panic, the group flees the scene and continues on their quest. They quickly reach their point and find their meet-up point, which happens to be a trailer occupied by a woman named Sara (Melissa Leo). The nervous boys adhere to Sara's demands without question, which includes downing multiple beers before stripping. It is at this point that Sara chastises the group for attempting to engage in sodomy. Befuddled the boys begin to lose consciousness and pass out, only to wake up to haunting spirituals and a realization that they are victims to the previously mentioned Five Points Trinity Church. Witnessing the murder of a gay man at the hands of the church led by the maniacal, yet eerily friendly Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) the boys try to escape. Their efforts seem futile, but luckily, the upset sheriff has sent a deputy to search for the car, which leads him to the Five Points compound. The deputy after realizing that the situation is quite suspicious attempts to call in reinforcements, only to be shot by a member of the church. This shooting leads to the sheriff, despite threats of blackmail by Abin, to call in the help of the ATF. The film then enters into its second act, which focuses on Agent Keenan (John Goodman) who is a specialist in the plots and going-ons of Five Points, particularly their accrual of weapons and explosives. Attempting to make the confiscation and removal of members from the location amiable, Keenan sets a stakeout point, only to have the sheriff ruin the plan by shooting one of the fleeing boys leading to a full-on shoot out, which leaves many killed in the process. After much fighting and a constant changing of plans by the government the member of Five Points evacuate their facility after hearing what sound to be trumpets. Thinking these sounds to be the act of God, Abin walks up to Keenan defiantly only to be subdued with a headbutt. The film then cuts to Keenan at a federal hearing to justify his actions, in which he is scolded on camera, only to be told off camera that his actions were perfectly reasonable, if not hilarious, and would result in his promotion. The film closes with Abin jailed for engaging in intended terrorist activities, with an ironic assumption that the gay acts he loathed so much would be enacted upon him frequently in jail. It is in this closing shot that we get the most Keven Smithesque jab of the entire film.
Just like my previous review of Restless, Red State is another great film for the year of 2011. It is certainly not Kevin Smith's best, but one well worth owning nonetheless, particularly given the gritty beauty of the bluray release.