(NO SPOILERS… I don’t think?)
The Boy and I decided to catch Kevin Smith’s new film, Red State, via On Demand before I left for dogsitting. We both consider ourselves Kevin Smith literate–we’ve seen almost all of his films (except Cop Out cause we haven’t gotten around to it yet) but we don’t own them or collect them or quote them when drunk. Well, when I’m drunk: The Boy is Saint-Never-Does-Anything-Fun. Clerks, however, has a very special place in my heart as it got me through six weeks of archaeology field school in the middle of North Dakota, where looking at the vista and feeling the power of the Universe can only last so long before boredom sets in. Anyhow, when we saw the trailer for Red State, we were intrigued. It’s a film about young boys seeking out some lovin’ promised by the internet and getting captured by a militant religious group, similar to God Hates Fags. I grew up in the ‘Buckle of the Bible Belt,’ the Arkansas Ozarks, and remember writing letters to Fred Phelps’ group by the time I was 15 about how he was a hate-mongering asshole. Considering my background, I thought a thriller set around those sorts of social tensions could be quite, well, tense. And possibly emotionally gratifying if the assholes get theirs in the film. Add in John Goodman and Melissa Leo and we were willing to fork over my $5.99 for HD Comcast On Demand.
Sufficed to say, we were not disappointed. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised. The pacing was great and the plot simple, yet filled with moral complexities. It wasn’t just a liberal revenge fantasy, as I had expected. The inclusion of the ATF and the impact of the Branch Davidian melee on their current decision-making was a great touch, especially with John Goodman in the lead role. I was a bit worried that with overzealous government agents + snarky teenage boys (tm Kevin Smith, natch) + crazy religious terrorists by the end it would just be TOO MUCH. Red State, however, had a subtlety I wasn’t expecting, especially when “Good Guys” acted with moral ambiguity and “Bad Guys” attempting to do the right thing. I was especially taken aback by Michael Park’s portrayal of the religious head, Abin Cooper. Too often, religious zealots are portrayed as blustering, loud, redfaced buffoons. Cooper’s main jeremiad captured the frightening, quiet righteousness of far right ministers so perfectly that The Boy and I were both awestruck. We kept looking at each other and saying, “This is amazing!” The quiet, steady firmness and certitude portrayed in this film is so similar to that leading conservative church-going Americans each Sunday. And at each election. It was one of the more frightening parts of the film. And our country.
Before everyone thinks I’ve become an unabashed fangirl, I do have some middling criticism. The lecture from the high school teacher would have gotten her fired that afternoon in that part of the country. The scene was also a bit heavy-handed. I know it was meant to provide a larger context for the film, but to me, it set an odd tone for the beginning. I also thought that there were a few too many grand gestures by characters that hadn’t had much character development, particularly with the Sheriff’s storyline.
Overall, I really enjoyed Red State and would recommend it. I especially think my fellow Southern brethren will see notes of (frightening) truth in Michael Park’s performance.