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Review: Red State

bill bodkin looks at the un-smoochiest of Kevin Smith films …

Plot: Three Middle America teens (Nicholas Braun, Michael Angarano,Kyle Gallner) who’ve set up an Internet sex hook-up with an older woman (Melissa Leo) are setup and kidnapped by a fanatical fundamentalist religious group. Soon … all hell breaks loose.

Kevin Smith has been known as a director that doesn’t play by conventional rules. He seems to be at his best when he pushes all his chips to the center of the table. From his starkly low-budget yet cherished indie comedy Clerks to his brilliant Catholic satire Dogma, when Smith is all in, he scores brilliantly.

Red State, his latest film, is probably one of the biggest risks Smith has taken, and luckily for us, he’s all in on this film.


Departing from his usual foul-mouthed, pop-culture-obsessed cult comedies he wanders into the world of religious fanaticism, government hypocrisy and horror-fueled intensity. Handled by a lesser director, Red State would be a mess. Dealing with the subject of religious fanaticism and titling your film Red State, one would think this would be an overly preachy condemnation of the conservatives, Christians, tea parties, you name it, from what could be considered a liberal point of view.

And if Smith had decided to approach Red State this way, this film would’ve been terrible. It would’ve been over-the-top, heavy-handed and most of all lazy. Criticizing fundamentalist religious groups by turning them into a murderous cult would just so blatant, so easy. Anyone filmmaker could do this.

However, Smith takes a two-fold approach to make sure that Red State avoids the easy trappings of lazy filmaking and creates an interesting and engaging film that leaves you with questions and an ideas to ponder and debate.

First, he creates an amazing sense of fear. It all occurs when three teenage boys are brought and trapped by the religious cult headed up Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). The honey-voiced Parks, known for his supporting roles in Tarantino and Rodriguez films, strikes so much fear into you. He’s so calm, so composed that you start to sweat, fearing when the moment when he snaps into the psychotic, hellfire and brimstone, murderous psycho that you know he’s going to become. And when it does, Smith doesn’t let off the gas, he ramps up Cooper’s smooth as velvet megalomania and fanaticism.


The second part of Red State that really stands out is that Smith brings in another villain — the government. Smith pulls no punches and shows that government is just as fanatical, vicious and cruel as the religious cult. However, within the government is a voice of reason, a voice of doubt, of question — an ATF agent played by John Goodman. Smith uses Goodman as a vehicle for us to relate with and to help answer the questions we might have.

Red State is no way a perfect film — it has its definite weaknesses. There are plot elements that don’t work, the final confrontation between the fanatics and ATF is a bit all over the place. But in the end, this is a film that really grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. And if you’ve ever doubted if Kevin Smith can do a film without Jay or Silent Bob or some sort of graphic sex joke, Red State proves he’s more than just smoochie boochies.

Bill Bodkin
Bill Bodkinhttps://thepopbreak.com
Bill Bodkin is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break, and most importantly a husband, and father. Ol' Graybeard writes way too much about wrestling, jam bands, Asbury Park music, HBO shows, and can often be seen under his season DJ alias, DJ Father Christmas. He is the co-host of the Socially Distanced Podcast (w/Al Mannarino) which drops weekly on Apple, Google, Anchor & Spotify. He is the co-host of the monthly podcasts -- Anchored in Asbury, TV Break and Bill vs. The MCU.


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