Written and directed by Kevin Smith and a noted departure from the slacker/stoner comedies he made his name with (though not a film devoid of his trademark dialogue and humor), Red State begins when a trio of boys living out in the Bible Belt area of the southwest United States - Billy-ray (Nicholas Braun), Randy (Ronnie Connell) and Travis (Michael Angarano) - decide to head out to a small town nearby to meet up with an older woman they've met on the internet who claims she wants to have sex with all three of them at the same time. On the way there their car sideswipes a car parked at the side of the road and while it first seems the car was empty, they soon realize it wasn't and make a fast exit. What they don't realize is that in that car was the town's sheriff, Wynan (Stephen Root, who will always be near and dear to some of our hearts for his performance as Milton in Office Space), who has been having covert sex with his gay lover before heading into work.
Milton sends his deputy, Pete (Matt Jones), out to investigate who hit his car, without telling him the details of course, while the boys meet up with their intended mate, Sarah (Melissa Leo). She offers them a few beers before they get down to business, but after a few swigs, they pass out - they've been roofied. When they wake up they're being held captive by Sarah and her family, the core members of the Five Points Church, lead by the fairly maniacal Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), who espouses along with his congregation that 'God hates fags' and 'God hates the military.' They've essentially trapped these three boys, sinners that they are, and intend to send them to Hell for their transgressions. These guys aren't going to go out willingly, however. On the other side of town, an ATF officer named Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) gets a phone call that sends him out of bed and into duty and once shots are fired, he and his assistant, Brooks (Kevin Pollack), are told by their higher ups to consider the Five Points congregation members to be terrorists and to use deadly force.
This is a film that absolutely will polarize viewers depending on your own personal political and theological views. Very obviously inspired by lunatic pastor Fred Phelps and the likeminded unholy scumbags that make up the all too real Westboro Baptist Church (Phelps is name-checked at one point in the movie) and the events that transpired in Waco, Texas when ATF agents took down David Koresh and the Branch Davidian complex, Red State as politically charged as it is intense and engrossing. A controversial concept is all well and good, but there's got to be a decent story behind it and strong performances to match if the movie is to mean anything. Thankfully, Smith's film delivers on those aspects as well. The script is lean, in fact maybe a little too lean as some more character development in regards not only to Goodman's character but to Parks' as well, would have gone a long way but this movie sets things up quickly and efficiently and then hits the ground running. There are a few great twists alongside side some moments of surprisingly intense violence but underneath the shaky cam action scenes and bursts of machine gun fire there's a movie that makes us think about certain aspects of the American political landscape. Without wanting to turn this review into a political soapbox, this is a film that raises a few questions worth thinking about though, despite a preachiness, ultimately lets us make up our own minds about the events that take place in the film, who made the right decision, and really brought down violence upon themselves.
As mentioned, the acting is very strong here. The actors who play the three teenage boys who get this whole horrible ball rolling are pretty convincing even if Nicholas Braun is basically playing a hick stereotype, and the various supporting members who make up the congregation of Five Points are all frighteningly convincing in their roles as anyone who has ever been around blindly obedient brain washed fanatics will attest to. The real stars of the show, however, are Parks and Goodman. Parks makes for a great antagonist here, delivering his fire and brimstone sermons with complete conviction and really taking the part and running with it without ever overdoing it, something that would have been very easy to do here and which would have hurt the film immensely. Goodman's ATF agent is also very well played, the seasoned and very underrated actor really bringing to life the conflicting emotions he feels in regards to listening to his superior officers over his moral compass.
A little more initial exposition might have gone a long way and the film is more a thriller than the horror movie that it's been called and subsequently marketed as (though it is definitely not short on horrific elements) but what makes the movie scary is that this is absolutely within the realm of possibility.The DVD
Red State looks good in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen on this DVD from Lionsgate. It stands to reasons that the Blu-ray release will trump it for detail but this is a solid standard definition presentation offering up good color reproduction and a nice, clean, stable image. There are some very minor compression artifacts in a couple of the darker scenes but you probably won't notice them unless you look for such things, but outside of that the image is quite good.Sound:
The only audio option for the film is an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix but it's a good one. Rear channel activity is nice and active during the shoot out sequences and the score is placed well in the various channels of the mix. Dialogue is well balanced and easy to understand and as you'd expect from such a recent movie there are no problems to report with any hiss or distortion. This is a fairly active and aggressive mix at times and it does a good job in those more intense moments but also manages to supply some good ambient noise in the quieter scenes. Overall, it's hard to take issue here, the movie sounds very good.Extras:
Extras kick off with a solid look behind the scenes of the movie entitled, appropriately enough, The Making of Red State, which features not only sound bites with Smith but with most of the core cast members in addition to some footage shot on set during production and some interesting clips. This is broken up into two parts, the first running 22:30 and the second 21:17, and both are worth watching, particularly when the coverage shifts to the Westboro Baptist Church members attending a screening (they walked out after seven minutes, says Smith) and the subsequent protest that they launched to follow the film. There's also a collection of Red State Of The Union SModcasts which is a series of internet podcasts that Smith did on his website to promote the movie before and while it was in theaters. There are seven of them included here: Hear The Teaser (41:10), The Harvey Boys (27:39), Splinter Of The Klein's Eye (37:06), Caster Master (1:04:03), Canado! (1:10:55), Brains & Braun (52:35) and Parks City (1:28:00). These play out over the film and feature input not only from Smith but from cast and crew members as well so they basically function as a bunch of mini (and not so mini - the last one runs the entire length of the feature) audio commentary tracks. Pretty much everything you'd want covered here is covered here, from casting to locations to marketing the movie to editing, directing, shooting the action scenes and the themes and ideas that the storyline in the feature toys with. It might have been better to have edited all of this into one or two scene specific tracks, but the way its laid out here works well enough and the amount of information relayed is impressive.
The Sundance Speech With Introduction By Kevin Smith (35:34) is, as the title implies, a document of Smith's speech in which he explains some of the ideas behind this film and talks to some of the more controversial aspects of it, while also going into detail about how he wanted to distribute the movie himself and how he set about trying to do just that. He also notes the importance of getting the film to Sundance in the first place. He brings the cast up on stage with him at the end and the crowd seems pretty appreciative of what Smith as to say here. A Conversation With Michael Parks With Introduction By Kevin Smith (17:56) is obviously an interview with the actor who played the Fred Phelps inspired character who here discusses his role and his work on the film. His thoughts are interesting and this is one of the most insightful extras on the disc as it really lets Parks explain his methods and his take on the material in his own words.
Rounding out the extra features are three Deleted Scenes with introductions by Kevin Smith which put them into context and explain why they weren't used - Abin Cooper's Full Sermon (18:02), "Touchdown" Scene (3:38) and an the Original Sundance Ending (9:14) - some trailers for Red State that also come with an introduction by Smith (4:44), a Poster Gallery with an introduction by Smith, animated menus and chapter stops. Surprisingly, the menus and chapter stops do not feature an introduction by Smith. Trailers for a few other unrelated Lionsgate properties are also included.Final Thoughts:
Red State is bound to be a pretty polarizing movie and a lot of what you get out of it absolutely will depend on your political and religious views. With that said, Kevin Smith has done an impressive job of delivering a film that is not only exciting and tense but which is also well acted and well put together on a technical level. More importantly, it makes you think, and whether you agree with its politics or not, it's never a bad thing when a movie can accomplish that. Lionsgate's DVD looks pretty good and sounds good too and on top of that it's got a pretty solid array of informative supplements. There's really no reason this shouldn't come highly recommended.