Since I first saw Dogma, what must have been 12 or so years ago, I have been an avid follower of the work of Kevin Smith.
From the genius of Clerks, and the other ‘Askewniverse’ films, to the near career suicide of Cop Out, I have been at least interested to see what Smith has put together (with the exception of Jersey Girl which I’ve still not brought myself to watch), so it was with great interest that I came to Red State.
I’d heard that this was something of a departure compared to the previous indie-fare, over sentimental rom-coms and ill-advised buddy cop pictures, into more grown up and certainly more extreme territory, and in one of these I was certainly not disappointed.
In many ways Red State starts like many of Smith’s films with a close-knit group of late teens talking about sex, a pre-occupation throughout the former Silent Bob’s canon, but rather than leading to the mall and a series of fantastic events, here it leads to an extreme right-wing church, torture, murder and a Waco style shootout – all including the aforementioned extreme (for Kevin Smith) gore and violence.
Throughout Smith’s work he has been accused variously of both sexism and homophobia, but, up until now, it has been clear that actually this is not the case as it is never the characters we are meant to sympathise with who express these opinions – except maybe Jay, but then he is really only half a character balanced out by his “hetero life mate” Silent Bob.
Here however, as the ‘sermon’ from Michael Parks’ Pastor Abin Cooper (a clear Fred Phelps cypher) goes on, at great length, I did begin to wonder about the homophobia issue.
While once again it is the ‘bad guys’ who express the negative opinions, at no point are they really counteracted, with the only potentially gay character in the rest of the film being the closeted sheriff who is driven to drink and contemplates suicide because of his situation (though again influenced by the ‘church’).
This is where Smith’s seeming attempt at making a grown up statement in Red State begins to crumble, and this is not resolved as the film goes on.
Sure, he makes a clear point that extremist religion, and groups like the Westboro Baptist Church, are not a good thing, that gun laws in the US are open to abuse and that government agencies are not always the most trustworthy and public-spirited bunch, but none of this is delivered in a way that makes any more of a statement than the rants one finds in the comment sections of news websites and leaves the film feeling ultimately empty.
Also, plot wise, the ending of the film (which I won’t spoil) feels like something of a cop out (pun intended), but by this point the film is in such a mess I’m not sure any ending would have been satisfactory to make it make the sense it seems to want to make.
All that said, there were a few laughs in the film, but as a whole it was a very messy and unbalanced film that fails in its attempt to deal with more ‘grown up’ issues than Smith’s past work.
It definitely seems Smith has moved well beyond the days of Dante and Randall and Jay and Silent Bob (for better or worse), but if Red State is anything to go by, he’s not yet found what comes next, though 10 out of 10 for trying, and this is far from an uninteresting film.