Most people reading this review will probably not know much about Mr Smith, but as a teenager, the larger-than-life American made some of my favourite and repeatedly watched films. His mixture of the mature and immature really spoke to me as a growing teenager, and his stories of independently funding his first feature film Clerks in turn inspired me to become an amateur filmmaker myself. To really show my love for him, his ability to combine sometimes slapstick humour and immature characters with profound dialogue and controversial themes led me to choose Kevin Smith for a college-assigned study in the nature of the 'auteur' (a director with a discernible style). Most people were analysing the use of the macabre in Tim Burton's films, or how gritty Martin Scorsese's early movies were. I, meanwhile, studied two guys talking in a convenience store about the plumbers working on the second incomplete Death Star.
Cut to six years later and here is that same auteur and idol, standing in front of me and several hundred others, retelling anecdotes in a Q&A session in Manchester. It took all my effort not to run up and hug the man who had created, and starred in, some of my favourite films. He had just finished showing us his newest, most mature and possibly best film yet, Red State.
Red State begins with old cliché of three teenage American boys trying to lose their virginity. However, things don't go to plan when the local trigger-happy Jesus-loving extreme Christian fundamentalists, headed by the incredibly well-cast Michael Parks, try to punish them for their sins. This leads to a stand-off between the Five-Point Church and the local SWAT team, headed by the always impressive John Goodman.
That sound like a simple plotline, but the complete film takes you through so many twists and turns, you never know where the film will end up. I was literally open-mouthed at some points, and it is completely refreshing to find a film that can still do that in today's industry. Just when you think you have a grasp on the film, it shocks you and surprises with you with something you truly didn't see coming. Not only does the film feel fresh and exciting, it is enjoyable to see Kevin Smith re-invent his approach to direction. No longer does he use steady shots and angles, but instead picks up the camera and brings a kinetic and invigorating take on the photography, especially in the shoot-out scenes and chase sequences. Bruce Willis gave Smith a tip on the set of Cop Out: “This is a movie; let's move!” Smith seems to have gladly heeded that advice.
As well as the direction, the cast are also phenomenal, with Michael Parks and John Goodman taking home most of the plaudits. Cast as the sinister and devout patriarch of the Five Points Church, Pastor Abin Cooper, Parks delivers each line pitch-perfect and seems to really enjoy the role. The pastor gives a speech early on in the film that would probably be two minutes long in ordinary films, but Smith gives Parks the chance to really show you the full duality and juxtaposition of Abin Cooper, with his hate-filled and vile speech being spoken like a kind-old grandfather to his adoring and similarly devout family. Like Smith, I had been a fan of Parks since his brief appearance at the start of Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk Til Dawn and his brief role in the Planet Terror half of Grindhouse was one of the definite highlights, so it is very pleasing to see Parks get a meatier role for him to sink his scenery-chewing teeth into. John Goodman also delivers a fantastic performance that reminded me of why the Coen Brothers valued him so highly back in their heyday. Portraying a conflicted but just man, he displays the calm power and the rationality needed for such a position. The real revelation is the casting of Kerry Bishé, most known to people as the ditzy Lucy in the most recent series of Scrubs. I had reservations about Bishé's casting before watching Red State, mainly due to her background of being on Scrubs and assuming the subject matter may be a bit serious for her. But she defiantly proves me wrong, delivering an impressive, varied and powerful portrayal of Cooper's granddaughter Cheyenne.
Overall, I believe that Kevin Smith has gambled with this venture, having recently made the sub-par Cop Out and Zack and Miri Make A Porno. Luckily though, I believe the gamble has paid off incredibly well. In my eyes, Red State can be counted as one of his greatest works, in a portfolio that contains such classics as Clerks, Chasing Amy and Dogma. If the rumours are to be believed, Smith will be making one last film, entitled Hit Somebody, and then will retire from filmmaking, which I believe is a massive shame. This could have been the start of a new direction for Kevin Smith, writing and directing hard-hitting films such as these would have brought him into the main public's attention, but I suppose that's never been a place that Smith has felt at home.
Please find this film and watch it. 'The End is Nigh' for the directing career of Kevin Smith; make the most of it while you can.
Rating - 10/10