Over the past year or two, a slew of onetime Kevin Smith fans have been pouring out of the woodwork claiming they no longer appreciate the writer/director, some even going as far to say that they now hate him and everything he has done. While much of his post '90s work is sketchy at best, everything beforehand is note worthy for individual reasons, and I find it highly misguided that some would take away what Smith had done early on due to the gradual downfall in the quality of his films as his career has progressed and sanity deteriorated. I understand the fact that some have outgrown his brand of humor, and his films just don't speak to some people anymore, something that is a fair assessment for an aging/maturing film fan who grew up with Smith's movies. But to full on rain hate on the man and everything he has done seems like it's more about bandwagoning and one-upmanship than anything. It's become chic to dislike Kevin Smith, and that bothers me.
The reason I am yapping on about all of this is because I still consider myself a fan of Kevin Smith. I don't cherish him as I once did when I was younger (and often baked like a potato), and I have certainly outgrown him in many ways, but I still appreciate what he did for Independent film back when he burst onto the scene. I'm what you could consider a fair and balanced fan of his work, unclouded by fanboydom and not unjustly critical.
Enter Smith's latest film Red State (2011), an oddity in the director's repertoire due to its serious tone, subject matter and its lack of dick and fart jokes. Red State is Smith's attempt at making a film unlike anything he has done before and, coming off Cop Out, it comes at a time when he is probably at his lowest in terms of fan acceptance and critical discontent. Being fair and balanced about Smith, I look at Red State with an open mind and no unfair expectations.
Based on what I have heard and read about other movie fan's opinions of Red State, the film has received extremely mixed reviews, collectively leaning more towards the good side of the equation. I've read from some that Red State is one of the worst films they have ever seen, while others proclaim it to be one of the year's best genre offerings. For me personally, the fair and balanced guy, I cannot get behind either sentiment in the least.
You probably already know the basic plot, so I'll spare you the details for the sake of review length, but the quick rundown is Red State is sort of like if From Dusk Till Dawn met the opening to The Devils Rejects and the two moved to Waco, Texas for a nice little brunch with David Koresh. Now, as good as that sounds, it doesn't necessarily reflect upon Red State's quality as a film, but that's not to say it's a horrible movie, either.
Something that really stands out about Red State is its pacing. Smith picks his audience up and drives them right out of the gate, guns a blazing, and as soon as the film's three teen protagonists are introduced, they find themselves in some seriously deep shit. The quick cut-to-the-chase pace is something I really appreciate about the film's opening, but from there, Smith makes what could be looked at as a bold move by hitting the breaks on this breakneck pace, bringing the film to a complete and total halt. Smith takes this time to focus on developing a character and his beliefs by giving him a sermon that must last at least fifteen minutes long. I appreciate Smith taking such a chance by slowing things down as much as he did, giving Michael Parks character, Abin Cooper, plenty of time to deliver a sermon for the ages. It worked for me, but I'm not surprised in the least that it doesn't work for everyone. It's a bit alienating, but in a way, that is the point. Smith was trying to alienate viewers, trying to make them think - trying to make them angry. So, take that as you may.
Red State is very much about keeping the audience on its toes. Specific events occur, changing the plot's focus from out of nowhere and without much warning, and when you think the movie is going one way, it goes another. Now, while that works in the moment, it's hard not to look at Red State as being a bit too jumbled after the fact. It's two or three different movies that gel together in theory, but don't fit in a way that makes an interesting, cohesive story worth caring about past the film's final moments, let alone even the midway point. I was along for the ride for most of the movie, but by the film's end, I was simply left empty, like as if Red State left almost no real impression on me outside of having to start processing this overly long review.
While I believe that all films should be judged on their own merit, as opposed to a director's previous work, the departure from normal (aka flat-out comedy) for Kevin Smith with Red State is surely fascinating. He has tackled religion in the past (with much better results), but never has he been more serious than with Red State, and that is very much reflected on screen with how the film was crafted visually. Red State is most definitely Smith's best-looking film, or at least the most visual film he has done thus far. And, to his credit, it's well put together for someone who is not that type of director. With that said, it's all mostly standard fare, and if you've seen one gritty, low-budget, digitally shot film with a case of Parkinson's, you've pretty much seen them all.
Smith is clearly saying something with Red State (and, at times, saying a little too much), and some would rightfully claim he was being more than heavy-handed in his approach. Granted, there is nothing being said in Red State that hasn't been said before, but I feel as if Kevin Smith really felt the need to get this all off his chest, and he was being genuine and true to himself in doing so. That truly shows with just how drastically different the film is from any other he has ever done before. I don't think he was trying to prove anything to anyone; he wanted to make this film for himself, and I fully applaud the attempt, regardless of its many flaws.
My overall feelings about Red State perfectly reflect my overall feelings about Kevin Smith. There are things about the film I enjoyed, but there are so many issues to be found throughout. There is no sort of emotional impact whatsoever, and the amount of time spent explaining shit that didn't need to be explained was quite tedious, if not simply uninteresting. Both Smith and Red State are terminally confused in many ways, and it seems as if Smith has issues with expressing himself coherently, and that bleeds deeply into the final product. Red State is a movie that, unless it comes up in conversation, I will probably never think about again, and that's because it really didn't give me enough of a reason to.