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Film Review: Red State

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by Matt Elliot Taylor (subscribe)
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon
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Theatrical Poster (Copyright SModcast Pictures)

There are two things you never bring up at dinner parties - Religion and Politics. This film is why.

Written and Directed by Kevin Smith who is well-known and well-loved by his fans for such comic classics as Clerks (1994) and more recently Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2009), his new story of a siege-gone-wrong is far from comedy. It begins with three teenage friends - Travis, Billy-Ray, and Randy - who, after having received an online invitation for sex, travel to the rural suburban home of Sara (Academy Award winner Melissa Leo). But as it is revealed that she is a loyal member of a local Christian Fundamentalist group who is responsible for a spree of hate crimes in the area, what unfolds is a bloody, bizarre, and somewhat sarcastic portrait of Middle America and its narrow-minded perception of good vs. evil.

Shot by David Klein (who always shoots Smith's films) with an irritating but eerie shaky-cam it is fast-paced, frantic and often disturbing in its portrayal of homosexuality, public execution and political wrong-doings. It almost feels like two mini-films put together, with the first act possessing all the traits of a classic Kevin Smith film, but then going off the rails with the relentless siege between the A.T.F. agents led by the morally sound Agent Keenan (John Goodman), and the Fundamentalist group under the unhinged spiritual guidance of Pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). This narrative structure is very reminiscent of Robert Rodriguez' From Dusk Til Dawn [1996] and this is no accident being that Michael Parks - who appeared in that film - is starring here only because Smith wrote the part specifically for him.

If you think you can expect something from Kevin Smith in this horrific turn of genre, you will be sorely mistaken. While there is some tongue-in-cheek humour, it is essentially an orgy of brutality satirising rather brilliantly and without being coy the first two amendments of the American Constitution - The Right to Free Speech, and The Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

Not much else can be said about this film without ruining too much. It's the kind of film you watch once, and then time and time again so you can show your friends. Whenever they ask "What's it about?" Reply with "You have to see it to believe it."

***1/2 out of *****

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Why? Kevin Smith like never before.
When: From September 1 (USA and UK) and September 22 (Australia)
Where: Your local cinema
Cost: Check your local cinema for details
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