dir: Kevin Smith
You know, for a Kevin Smith flick, it doesn’t suck too much.
But does it suck enough? Well, these things are always relative, aren’t they?
I’m not sure if Smith thinks this flick makes him seem like a director with his finger on the pulse of society, but it at least shows that he can make a flick about something more serious than his own sexual obsessions and his desire to get back at those who’ve ever wronged him.
Red State takes a decidedly different tack from the one, and only, smutty track his flicks usually take. It’s serious, man. Entire sections of Red State could have come from one of the Hostel movies. And there are long, agonising sections where a preacher (Michael Parks) lectures his congregation, telling them, and us, about how much God hates humanity. And the gays, especially.
And it’s not played for laughs. It might sound inelegant to describe this flick as Smith’s most ‘serious’ flick, but it’s pretty much played straight, if you’ll pardon the pun, and I’m sure you won’t.
The flick also has three distinct shifts in its tone and content, to the point where it makes it hard to describe just what kind of movie it is, in terms of genre. Not that it’s important to wedge it into the most appropriate pigeonhole, or to find the most fitting pigeonhole, or to just shoot the fucking pigeon so that it leaves you alone for ever more. No, just sit back and endure the ride.
In our real world, there are these lunatic members of a lunatic church called the Westboro Baptist church, led by a lunatic called Fred Phelps. There aren’t that many of these lunatics, but, as Alexander Pope said of narrow-souled people, comparing them to narrow-necked bottles: the less they have in them, the more noise they make in pouring out. These prize dickheads make a lot of noise and get a lot of notoriety out of all proportion to their actual relevance or importance to this world or any other. Their hatred of pretty much everybody, but especially gay people and the Jews, and the actions they take to express this hatred, has made them strange fixtures in the media, more for curiousity value than anything else.
In Smith’s flick, these funeral-picketing morons are transformed into the 5 Points Church, and, at least initially, they seem to be a direct representation of Phelps and his fucked up clan. Of course that only lasts for about 20 minutes before the flick degenerates into outright madness. I mean, more outright madness than the ones in our world are responsible for.
And then it keeps finding new ways to degenerate, but perhaps in a good way. It started like a horror flick (three teenage boys think they’re hooking up with a local wanton woman, only to find etc etc), then it becomes an extended diatribe from the minister, Abin Cooper, a silver-haired, genial patriarch-type figure, beheld adoringly by his meagre congregation, as he spits out every vile belief these religious nutjobs hold.
For, let’s be honest: Smith’s not just saying that Phelps and his ilk are evil and wrong just because they’re protesting dead soldier’s funerals and being so unsightly and rude. He’s essentially depicting all Christian fundamentalist arseholes as being this loopy, because they essentially believe the same crap. They’re just not as unsightly about it.
It’s not just the set of beliefs, but the attachment to the beliefs that leads them, in the flick, to take matters into their own hands. It comes down to, pretty much, this set of holy rollers deciding they need to do God’s work themselves.
After all, just like Benjamin Franklin said, the Lord helps serial killers who help themselves.
They kill gay men, they try to kill horny teenagers, and, when the government rolls up, they try to kill various law enforcement types with the stockpile of guns they’ve accumulated in anticipation of the End Times.
And that’s when, almost inexplicably, the flick turns into a Waco-like siege where decent government chaps (embodied by John Goodman, of all people), become subservient to the War on Terror by deciding they’re going to do to these people what they did to the Branch Davidians back in the 1990s.
As in, kill everyone, men, women, children, puppies, daisies, everything.
Have you got whiplash yet, just hearing about all this? Imagine what it was like watching it.
For a Kevin Smith flick, this isn’t an entirely incompetent endeavour. It’s obviously shot on the cheap, but some of the acting is top notch. The murderous preacher and John Goodman’s character as an ATF senior agent put in performances worthy of a much better film with a better director and a more coherent story.
Melissa Leo, as one of the unholy congregation, is terrible. They should take that Academy Award she won this year away from her, considering how terrible she is. Let me put it this way: if you can be singled out for bad acting in a Kevin Smith movie, you know you’ve hit the jackpot.
Those qualities aside, the rest of it is too disjointed, and perhaps muddled in its intent to really elevate this flick in any way which will change people’s minds about Smith’s general competence as a director. Sure, he can write what he thinks is witty dialogue, but most of the stuff that works here is monologues. Goodman, who’s lost a surprising amount of weight, delivers monologues to a phone or to camera in a slightly depressed way, which is okay. He’s an interesting character, but it’s not like this flick is going to have time to explore anything like that.
We already know what the Westboro Baptist shitheads do is bad. Some of us, at least, know it’s bad to victimise or malign people just because you don’t like their sexual orientation or their lifestyle. Few of us, or at least the few that would actually watch a Kevin Smith flick, feel the need to justify our prejudices by claiming the invisible man in the sky is on our side. Turning this into a horror flick where the government’s an even bigger villain is… just confusing.
That being said, before it’s explained with a cheap and tawdry explanation, there’s a climactic moment in the flick which seems like God finally reaches a breaking point and decides we’re all wrong. That moment is really well handled. The way it mixes fear and confusion (and elation on the part of the 5 Points fuckwits) was brilliant.
And then it stumbles back to a mundane reality. I think that there is something to be said for Kevin Smith trying to make a flick that is significantly different from whatever he’s done in the past. He’s the first to say that he’s not a great director, and also the first to whine when other people agree. He’s made some terrible stuff, and this is nowhere near that level of laziness. This is actually quite thoughtful (for him), and certainly more dynamic that what he’s usually capable of.
I saw this at a ‘special’ screening, very special for a flick whose production and release were completely fucked up in a way that only Kevin Smith’s engorged ego can seem to manage in this day and age. While it was well attended, mostly of the people I saw it with emerged bleary-eyed and shell-shocked (not really), scratching their heads in confusion, not really getting the point, and not really caring either way.
I care a bit more than that. The flick has a strangely fascinating way of conjuring up these American pathologies, and the duelling views of America that he’s trying to say are just ridiculous not in and of themselves alone, but in how they are expressed by those who cling to them. And it’s that belief, rather than the content of the beliefs, that is the source of great evil.
And, I guess that’s a bad thing? It’s a curious flick, I’ll say that much. Maybe I didn’t get it all, but it did agreeably kill 90 or so minutes of time I otherwise could have spent causing world hunger or stockpiling firearms, so maybe it’s not a complete loss
6 times shooting too many guns, and not enough Star Wars related dialogue out of 10
“I fear God. You better believe I fear God” – and I bet he fears you, too – Red State.