"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Unbiased Adoration for Kevin Smith's 'Red State'

Red State Teaser Trailer

Childe Jake's Review of Red State: Ann Arbor, Michigan Screening

For all of the spectacle that cinema affords, sometimes its most prized offering is the simple yet magical first appearance of a film’s star. A great example is Robert Shaw’s nails-on-chalkboard intrusion into Jaws. The new indie thriller Red State provides just such an entrance by actor John Goodman.

Easily the biggest name in Red State, Goodman doesn’t show up right away. In fact, I was so caught up in the movie’s disturbing first act that I actually forgot he was in the cast. It’s not just cool that Goodman, being pop culture royalty, would deign to appear in a low-budget flick like Red State. It’s that his entrance is perfectly timed and sublimely understated, coming right after a particularly brutal sequence.

Red State is filmmaker Kevin Smith’s supercharged take on homegrown religious extremism. I don’t want to say much about the plot, because this is one of those films where the less you know the better your viewing experience will be. Suffice it to say that Red State begins with three teenagers on a quest to get laid. They drive into the proverbial sticks and get abducted by an ominous cult waging war with sinners.

The above setup, summarily executed, is where the film’s predictability ends. By the time Goodman arrives, the only thing the audience knows for sure is that anything could happen next. This gets to the core of why Goodman’s familiar presence is so appreciated, even comforting. Who else could get audience applause for merely rolling out of bed?

Red State is a dark and menacing hodgepodge of genres and styles. Among others, it mixes the gritty feel and tension of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre with the peppery dialogue of Reservoir Dogs. Plus, the whole thing gets shot with frenetic camera work reminiscent of Requiem for a Dream. If you are inclined to regard the above fare as over the top, then you aren’t paying attention to the country you live in. We’re pretty crazy these days. And if we don’t calm down, the Armageddon fate looming over Goodman’s character in Red State may be our own.

Lest this review turn into a total love fest, I must say Red State is not perfect. At times, the film’s low budget is distractingly apparent. There are also a few patches of dialogue where the exposition comes across heavy and forced. Perhaps more problematic, Smith’s taste for thoughtfulness and humanity sometimes competes awkwardly with his penchant for farcical scenarios. Still, these narrative shortcomings can be forgiven. Like Smith’s previous films, Red State hits home whenever characters voice notions us real folks are having but lack the guts to say aloud.

Ultimately, the twin gems of Red State are crafty performances by Goodman and Michael Parks, who plays the movie’s slithering villain. Call these guys the Yin and Yikes of Red State. I don’t seriously expect this movie to rake in awards, but between SAG, the Golden Globes and Oscar himself, one or both of these actors should at least get a nod.

Red State is currently on tour, with Smith hosting screenings followed by Q and A at big theatres. Later this year, the movie should find its way to a Cineplex near you. For independent film fans this is the chance to see Kevin Smith return to the roots that fostered his breakthrough film Clerks. But for everyone Red State is an opportunity to be entertained, challenged, and also reminded how wonderful it is when John Goodman shows up for the shindig.

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