Red State

| October 18, 2011

Filmmaker Kevin Smith is one of the most infamous verbal badminton players around, striking back as often as he’s attacked. As a result, his status as a relevant force in contemporary cinema has been challenged in a vain most often found on IMDB message boards, where he’s treated less like a professional and more as a lucky and mouthy amateur. Smith would be the first to admit to being the latter, however, he still rightfully feels compelled to defend his post. And as though taking advice from his own anonymous online alter-ego, Smith decided to finance and self-distribute his latest film Red State as a way to save face and ensure an artistic legacy.
Smith’s artistic re-awakening has been widely publicized, largely by Smith himself. The artistry is present in more than just Red State itself, but in the business model surrounding it. Utilizing Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and personally bringing the film to fifteen different cities in a classic style road trip, Smith has adapted to the times in a way that proves he’s the leader he’s always seemed to be, taking charge and paving a new path. By refusing to sell the film to any distributor, and taking on the responsibility of the film’s success himself, he has literally put his money where his mouth is. So what is the result of this endeavor? Nothing that you would expect, I can assure you.
Red State is a hybrid of horror, political thriller, and action with sprinkles of comedy and courtroom drama to amplify its inimitability. It’s the work of a defined auteur trying to live up to that title. Plotwise, it’s religious fundamentalism vs. government, among other things, with Michael Parks and John Goodman squaring off in a win-win for acting chops alone. Parks cements his pending legendary status with a performance that should win several awards if the movie gods are paying attention. Goodman is his usual, natural self; easy to root for with the slightest of efforts on either part. Academy Award-winner Melissa Leo furthers her chameleon abilities with another character embodiment, and the supporting cast features many of the best performances in Smith’s canon. The camera work is probably the most noticeable difference in the context of the movie, injecting additional kinetic energy to the already volatile material.
The film is subversive in virtually every way: content, style, distribution, structure, and even expectation. It’s an exercise in being one step ahead of the audience at all times, to a dizzying effect. Yeah, it could be classified as “messy”, but the degree in which the viewer decides to commit to the viewing will determine the effect therein. To delight in the unpredictability is part of the point of Red State, a movie designed with “audience reaction” vividly on its agenda. Those who roll with it will collectively join Smith in giving a middle finger to the establishment.
Smith often describes his intent as “a Tarantino film by way of the Coen brothers”, and I would agree with that as the foundation, but I would add Eli Roth and Darren Aronofsky to the mix to account for the story setup and the camera work. The sense of spontaneity and structural flexibility is that of a comedian in disguise, which, given Smith’s body of work, is a fitting way to view the film. Despite the contemporary influence, Red State has the spirit of the horror films of the seventies and functions as a confirmation of a continuation of that era.
The present political vibe is rooted in the Vietnam era, and, after a couple decade break, has re-emerged. As a result, there’s a seventies spirit to a certain branch of contemporary cinema, movies like There Will Be Blood (2007), No Country For Old Men (2007), and The Dark Knight (2008), among others, would fall into this category. I would place Red State among them without question. It’s a film deliberately made in response to the times, and films with this much awareness are too rare to be ignored.
The DVD and Blu-Ray features include several commentary tracks, a “making of” documentary, an interview with Michael Parks, Kevin Smith’s Sundance Speech, deleted scenes, and more.
Now available from Lionsgate

About the Author:

Studied Film at Eastern Michigan University, the movie store and movie theater he used to work at, on his own, and with friends. Jared is also a playwright, screenwriter, director, short story writer, and essayist. You can read more of his work at two other websites: The Man in the Movie Hat and The Hive Ann Arbor. He lives, works, and walks his dog in the Detroit area, where he's willing to obsessively discuss The Simpsons or the films of Paul Thomas Anderson at a moment's notice.
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