Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Film Yap: Red State

Crassness has always been part of Kevin Smith’s films. Usually the vulgarity and obscene sexual references are by characters who are still innocent creatures. They are usually discussing trivial topics like employees of the Death Star or how to save a monkey. When he goes towards deeper subjects like complex relationships or religion, his characters still approach it with naivety as they fight for what’s good.

For the first time in his career, Smith is getting vicious. Most of his cast of characters in “Red State” are unredeemable in his mind. They are a thin metaphor for the Westboro Baptist Church and their leader Fred Phelps. The heroes have very little chance to be heroic because they are always being tortured or running for their lives. It’s a gutsy movie that doesn’t always succeed.

Smith has a knack for comedic dialog that offers plenty of surprises and laughs. Using that to forward a drama proves difficult. Most of the movie is filled with never-ending monologues that lack the pacing and wit from his previous ventures. It always feels like unnecessary exposition, especially when a teacher has to explain who the national celebrity is who lives in their small town.

The strength in the film comes from its surprises. This is a ruthlessly violent movie that won’t stop once it gets going—unless characters need to talk for a long time in panic. It is often visually exciting in a very grimy way. What Smith chooses to do in the last ten minutes is some of the most brilliant things in his entire career. Well, eight of those minutes are great and two are too indulgent.

There is a reason why this movie needs to be reviewed as a comparison to the rest of Smith’s filmography. “Red State” by itself is a forgettable B-movie with an impeccable cast—including Matthew Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman, Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, Stephen Root, Matt L. Jones, Kerry Bishé, Anna Gunn, Kevin Pollack, and the mighty Matthew Parks.

Seeing this as a Kevin Smith joint shows something greater. Directors like Martin Scorsese, Danny Boyle and Steven Soderbergh tend to switch genres every other time at bat. Smith has felt comfortable since his breakout hit in 1994. “Red State” is such a radical departure in terms of story, visual style, and content that it hardly even feels like Smith was behind it.

So much like “New York, New York”, “The Beach” and “The Good German”, I appreciate the ambition in the project more than the end result.

The DVD includes a number of behind the scenes bonus features that give a really through look at the history of the project—including the now infamous Sundance speech, which kicked off his self-distribution goals. They are sometimes a bit repetitive, but they do capture a lot.

Film: 3 Yaps

Extras: 4 Yaps


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