An admirable failure
Kevin Smith stirred up a lot of shit with his "guerrilla marketing" of his latest film, Red State. A lot of people seemed overly pissed off or overly excited as a result, and it's possible they let the business of the movie affect their opinion of his movie. It is important to separate the business from the art. Once I did that, I felt completely guilt-free in not liking this movie all that much.
Read about what this film is about here (as you can probably tell by now, I'm not interested in rewriting the plots of movies...it is tedious and a waste of your time to read what would inevitably be an inferior plot summary to ones else where)
I truly appreciate Smith making a film out of his comfort zone, as far too many artists seem to feel complacent to just "rinse-later-repeat" once they find a formula of financial success (see Bay, Michael and Emmerich, Rolland). However, Smith's attempt here to create a social -commentary-horror film falls flat.
Smith's past films worked because they followed characters who were easy to latch onto, and we wanted to follow them throughout the whole movie. Smith fails to create any such characters in Red State. The film starts following three sex-crazed Texas high school boys; none of them are interesting enough to care about what happens to them. Smith also seems to keep switching between which boy we should want stay most attached to, and as a result, we're not attached to any of them. These characters are essentially ditched half-way through the movie for two new heroes, played by Kerry Bishe and John Goodman. Goodman is good in his role as an overwhelmed FBI agent, but he is introduced too late in the movie to truly get behind as a main protagonist. Bishe is also meant to be a hero, but she was seen for half the movie as just another church member, so there was no real reason to believe that she is good; once again, she does not adequately satisfy the role of a protagonist.
While I just wrote a lot negative things about this movie, the one thing that is unquestionably good is Michael Parks' mesmerizing performance as Pastor Abin Cooper. We are first introduced to Cooper as he delivers an epic monologue (of hate) that would make Shakespeare jealous. Smith wisely lets Parks dominate every scene he is in. Parks is one of the most compelling screen villains since Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Unfortunately, there is no Batman to match Cooper.
Parks would probably be getting award season buzz if the whole product could live up to his performance.
In conclusion, I applaud Smith for leaving his comfort zone, but this film does not work. I am genuinely disappointed that Smith has decided to stop making films, as this film proves that he has a lot more potential then maybe some people were willing to give him credit for. The potential is just not fulfilled here.