Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Red State of Affairs

Around 4am this morning, I was flipping through the channels, and "Jersey Girl" was on. I was elated, as much as one can be at that hour of the night; for a Kevin Smith film is like a warm blanket to me. The warm, soft, comforting blanket that needs to be washed more oft than it actually does, due to it being substituted as the sex towel in moments of convenience, but that's okay cause there's still that clean side you can put over your face. As I laid there, drifting off to the trials and tribulations of Ollie Trinke, I realized that I made mention I would blog about a Kevin Smith film I had the humbling fortune to watch two months ago. A film that I had not stopped thinking about for two months. A film that I have been excited for since its announcement. A film that I swear is going to change the game the way "Clerks" changed the game for the Indie scene. A film that is the furthest notion of a comforting blanket. If anything, Red State is Kevin Smith tearing away any sense of covers that you may be clinging on to, and exposing the frail, naked, vulnerable truth that we don't want the world to see.

I've always noticed that when most people talk about a "Kevin Smith" film, that they have a hard time separating the man from his work. They confuse the Writer/Director/SModcaster/Twitterer/Q&Aer with what he puts on screen and talk more about the man than the film. I guess I can see their conundrum, Kevin does put a lot of himself in his work, as any good artist would. But when the confusion turns into a dismissal of his work based solely on the fact that his name is attached to the material, that's where I feel these people have checked their brains several doors ago and have never bothered to go back for them.

Thing is, Kevin is one of the most open and honest people I have ever met who happens to make movies, and that is a rarity in a world where we expect celebrities to walk the red carpet, grace our screens, and who we suppose to be good people on the amount of talk shows they show up on. Tom Cruise's alien overlord forbid that a man is more open and honest with his audience in a more personable manner. Even worse, that he be treated with the same respect as any other auteur out there.

Thankfully, at age 40, Kevin has no want of where the puck currently resides. No, Kevin Smith goes to where the puck is going to be. And to continue my borrowed metaphor; like Russ Tyler in "D2: The Mighty Ducks", he knuckle pucks the shit out of it to score. Red State is that knuckle puck. A jarring, relentless, unforgiving shot at the net, and just like Team Iceland, you are so not gonna see it coming.

Let's get the spoiler alert out of the way.

IF YOU DON'T WANT TO READ ANY SPOILERS ABOUT RED STATE NOW WOULD BE A GOOD TIME TO SKIP UNTIL YOU SEE THE BIG LETTERS AGAIN.

That said, let's get what is already known about the movie out of the way. Three teenagers get an invitation online for some good ol' fashioned finger-cuffing. Only to find out that they've run afoul of some good ol' boys and girls who are way too into the good ol' book.

The film starts off normal enough. Not in the typical sense, but in the sense that there's a conversation any mother and son would have on any given day in a car. In fact, establishing this complete sense of normality at the very beginning carries its way through the entire film. And that's where Red State is at its most freakishly scary. The sense that what happens in this movie is a bible thump away from being an every day scenario.

If you've come to watch what people dismiss as a "Kevin Smith film" the beginning lulls you into this sense of comfort. The way the three youths interact on the way to their "date", who's going first, and where, and when, and how, and whose balls aren't going to touch. However, this mermaid's song worked exactly as it was meant to. You didn't notice the jagged rocks along the way, you dismissed the "crazies" as the A-typical crazies along the way and that was your folly. As, quite apparently, the three youths soon find out as they are introduced to the Cooper's Dell Church.

Folks have made the comparison of the fictional "family" of nut jobs in the film to one of the more ludicrously known "families" out there. But truth be told, that's like comparing the band Iron Maiden to the actual iron maiden. One is very loud, but otherwise harmless. The other is fucking scary and has only one function.

Michael Parks is eerie in portraying this idea. The man plays Pastor Abin Cooper like Lex Luthor plays Metropolis. When the man speaks, he hypnotizes you into believing he's a man of reason and compassion. He is cool, calm, and collective. Abin Cooper just happens to be fucking evil, to boot. But unlike Metropolis, there's no Superman here to save the day. Not in these walls. No matter what the sign outside the door says, God does not live here, and it shows. If any ray of light happens to shine through these dark walls, it's that the boys capture does not go unnoticed. And help comes in the guise of an ATF agent played by John Goodman.

John Goodman surpasses his namesake. He is great in this film. He plays an agent who has seen it all. Not an agent who has seen it all and is tired, but all he needs to do is shave his goatee and he can come kick ass one more time, he just needs that one reason too. No, he plays a man who has seen it all and has come to terms with what is out there. He mirrors Cooper in demeanor, so far as to say that if not for the grace of common sense, there goes he.

The cavalry arrives. And it all goes to shit. You would think with the comic relief showing up, that we'd get some sense of levity. Something to say, things are going to be okay. But Smith takes your moment of mirth, and shoots it in the face, literally. This isn't a movie about hope, this isn't a movie about the Good guys VS. the Bad guys. This is Red State, in every way the name implies, other than the political one that most critics can't seem to let go.

And so it goes, any time you think that you might escape this world that too closely resembles ours, you are quickly reminded that there's no escaping reality. That a world awry is only brought about when EVERYONE can come to some kind of understanding. Here lies the horror in Red State. The normality of the situation that I spoke of earlier. This film could easily be a documentary of an event to come. And it terrified me that this is the world that in good conscience, we live in. How one person could treat another. Sure, there's the iron maiden, but that was built to fuck shit up. After this movie, you will never look at cling wrap the same again, I guarantee it.

I've obviously skipped the really good stuff. Anyone who ruins these moments for you is akin to those who got out of the first viewing of Empire Strikes Back and yelled out, Vader is his father, to those in line for the second viewing. They are worth going in blind for. Especially the fucking end credits!

I'm sure there will be a lot of people that will claim that Red State is what happens when religious zealotry goes unchecked. Truth is, that's only half the story here. This is a film that portrays what happens when we faction ourselves off and do away with seeing each other as humans but rather the "thing" we so blindly claim to adhere to. There was a lot of wrong in Red State and a whole lot of folks claiming to be right. Of course, the ones who end up suffering are those who had barely anything to do with any of the transgressions.

End of Spoilers!

As I write this, Red State is being shown for the first time over at Sundance. I envy each and everyone of those people. They are bearing witness to what a filmmaker can do when he says, "I've got a story to tell, and damn it, I'm going to tell it the way I want to." The film gets auctioned off for distribution after the screening. From the twitter ads to the Sundance screening, this has been handled by Kevin Smith on his own terms, and I've never seen the man more elated. Especially, as I type this line, it seems that SModcast Pictures will be releasing the film. Kevin will be releasing Red State in theaters on October 19th, the 17th anniversary of the Clerks release.

Full fucking circle, if you ask me. And I couldn't be happier for the guy. Seems he passed the puck to himself, and there's nothing but a clear shot to the net from here.

5 comments:

BrendoMan said...

You said it much better than I ever could man. Nicely done.

Americo said...

Appreciate the kind words, sir.

Cre8ive said...

Excellent review AA! I'm all for Kevin passing the puck to himself, he deserves it and looking forward to what they can do with Smodcast Pictures!

Childe Jake said...

Thank you for sharing your reflections on Red State. I especially appreciated your discussion of how the movie skirts reality. That was a big source of suspense for me as I watched the screening in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I look forward to seeing this movie get a wider release.

Americo said...

Glad you liked, sir. Can't wait for it to come out in Theaters.