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Review: Red State (2011)

Red State (2011)

Directed by: Kevin Smith

Premise: A group of teen boys are abducted by an extreme rightwing Christian group intent on killing them as an example to the congregation. When the ATF shows up a violent standoff ensues.

What Works: Red State is a Kevin Smith film but those familiar with Smith’s other pictures may not recognize this as the work of the director of Dogma, Clerks, and Chasing Amy. But Red State in many ways represents the fruition of a maturation that Smith has been working toward for some time. Jersey Girl was underappreciated by both fans and critics and although it is held back by an overdependence on family film clichés, Smith did tell a story about parenthood that let go of some of the immature qualities of his earlier films. Zach and Miri Make a Porno retreaded Smith’s tendency for crude humor but it also dealt with the emotional entanglements of sex and romance. And Cop Out, as disastrous as it was, saw Smith breaking out of the smaller, domestic films of his past and aspire to the scale of Hollywood action cinema. In a lot of these pictures, Smith sacrificed his personal storytelling style and even his integrity as a filmmaker in search of new filmmaking genres. With Red State, Smith manages to tell the kind of mature tale he’s been reaching for in his past few films and reasserts his distinct voice and vision as a filmmaker. Red State is an intense, dark, and violent picture but it is also smart and morally complex. Despite Kevin Smith’s public image as a loudmouth stoner and goofball, his films are very thoughtful and in Red State Smith puts that thoughtfulness forward. Red State draws from a variety of film genres from teen sex comedies to siege films to horror pictures and uses those elements together and sometimes against one another. The film has an interesting process of introducing characters who are not likable at first and then creating some sort of sympathy for them. Red State opens with a group of teens on mission to get laid and at first their teenage hijinks are obnoxious but when they become victims that changes the whole tone of the film and the young actors authentic portrayal of fear overcomes their annoying qualities. The cult members then become the point of derision but they too get a reprieve as some of them begin to question what they are doing. And the ATF agents also get a nuanced portrayal as they struggle to reconcile orders to use extreme tactics with what they believe to be right. This is a sophisticated portrayal of competing groups of people blinded by their own fears and prejudices and trapped within the framework of their ideology and institutions.

What Doesn’t: Red State is not perfect. The film is rough around the edges as it moves from one piece to another and it is saggy in places, especially at the beginning. As it gets into the siege some of the choices about who lives and who dies and under what circumstances are questionable in that the film takes the time to create empathy for characters only to kill them a few minutes later. The roughness of Red State and its brutality and even callousness actually help it and give the film the audacity that makes it stick. But this isn’t an audience pleaser like Kevin Smith’s other films.

DVD extras: Documentary, podcasts, featurettes, introduction, deleted scenes, trailers, and photo gallery.

Bottom Line: Red State is a bold film and one of the best pictures that Kevin Smith has made. It is sure to surprise Smith’s fan base but it’s also likely to surprise everyone else as well with its smart storytelling and its uncompromising approach.

Episode: #365 (November 20, 2011)