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Movie Review – Kevin Smith’s Red State

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Red StateGoing into Red State I was convinced I was about to watch a horror movie revolving around religious fanatics who butchered people.  Gore porn focused on inbred God-fearing folks with a dash of humor.  Instead I walked out of the theater dazed (in a good way) by what I watched and convinced this is the best movie so far out of writer/director Kevin Smith.  Instead the movie is genre-less, part regular Smith horndog comedy, part horror, part thriller, lots of action and in the end one hell of a statement about sex, religion and politics.

Set in Middle America, a group of teens receive an online invitation for sex, though they soon encounter fundamentalists with a much more sinister agenda.

The description for the film is pretty open on sites like IMDB and that might be it’s biggest disservice, because this is absolutely Smith’s best film (and I’m fond of Clerks, Chasing Amy and Dogma).  The film begins as a sex romp with three teens trekking off for a sex romp by the headquarters of a cultish evangelical religious group.  All hell breaks loose and quickly it’s apparent this isn’t the normal Smith film.  I hate to give it away as the shifts in tone are some of the most fun things about the film, keeping you off balance with each shift and opening the film up to so many possibilities in direction.

The acting was really good, with fantastic turns by leads Michael Parks as the evangelical preacher Abin Cooper and John Goodman as conflicted ATF agent Joseph Kennan.  The direction is kicked up a notch as well, with some amazingly tense moments and action scenes that are unlike anything Smith has done before (there’s massive growth in the action scenes since Cop Out).

What’s amazing is the statement this movie makes.  Part allegory on first amendment rights, partly about fanaticism and totally about blind faith and the willingness to submit, the movie deftly mixes sex, religion and politics without being preachy.  The movie begins and ends as a “Smith” film with lots of humor, but the in between is unlike anything he’s done before.  Both in statement and execution.  Previously it was the words that drove his films, now it’s the actions.  A complete 180 in how his stories have been told.  And the story itself is pertinent today with it’s focus on fanaticism, whether it’s Al Qaeda, the Westboro Baptist Church, or other hate groups, all at the forefront of much that’s driving the world.

There’s little I’d change in the movie, only one thing isn’t explained and to bring it up would create a spoiler.  The biggest thing I’d focus on, and part of the point of the tour, is it’s marketing.  This isn’t a horror movie.  It’s horror and action and thriller all rolled into one.  To market it as such is a disservice to itself and likely to turn off those who would never see such movie.  And this is one to see.  The audience seemed to have the same feeling as the shared experience with fans resulted in a communal and in-sync viewing where we cheered at the same moments and clapped and applauded at the same time.  I have rarely seen an audience enjoy a film more and have so much fun.

As the second last film in Kevin Smith’s career (he has stated he’s done after Hit Somebody), it’s an absolute highlight.  Fantastic story, direction, acting, action and one hell of a statement.  This was an early viewing, but you better believe I’ll be there opening night when the film eventually hits theaters.

Directing: The direction for this film is just fantastic.  The look, tone, pacing, all of it exactly where it needs to be.  There’s three tones and sections of the movie.  The beginning and end are very much “Smith” with funny writing and great back and forth.  It’s very comedic.  The first shift involves the horror section.  A tense scary section, you never know what will happen and where the movie goes.  It’s completely new for Smith, as far as writing and feel.  I was tense, expecting the worst and some over the top gory event at any moment.  Instead, think more the end of Silence of the Lambs, it’s just intense.  The third section is just awesome action.  To go further would ruin it.  With this new maturity from Smith, it’ll be fascinating to see where his next and final film winds up.

Acting: The acting is top notch.  Parks and Goodman stand out, but there’s not a bad actor in the bunch.  Stephen Root, Kevin Pollak and recent Oscar winner Melissa Leo would be the other three names folks would know.  I’ve never seen an audience cheer as much as when certain individuals debuted or when certain folks met their demise.  There was emotional connection you rarely see, with folks cheering and hissing at all the right moments.  Acting has a lot to do with it.

Plot: I loved the plot, and to really say why would give way too much away.  There’s three types of movie here, comedy, horror and action and there’s sudden shifts as to wake the audience up and make them uncomfortable.  This is clearly done on purpose and the shifts work into each other smoothly.  The statement the film makes is perfect for this time, as it focuses on fanaticism, free speech and blind faith and allegiance.  There are no good guys here and there are no bad guys.  There’s just moments and decisions all flowing together to one hell of a conclusion.

Overall: What can I say, I gushed over this movie.  It’s the perfect film for me as it has what I look for, it’s entertaining, original, good acting and has something to say.  It’s also something new from Kevin Smith the writer and director.  The bonus of seeing the film was Smith’s Q&A that followed it and his introduction.  If you’ve never seen Smith live, it’s well worth it.  Rarely do you find someone so honest and open, clearly he is who he is and is comfortable with that.  The movie continues it’s tour, and if it comes to your town and you get a chance to see it, take it.  The movie is fantastic and the company you’ll be watching it with probably can’t get much better.  Plus you get a masters of ceremony who was behind it all.

Grade: A+

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