When Red State first came out I was excited. And when Kevin Smith took it on the road for the ‘raise the distribution fund’ event tour and I wanted to give him my 60+ bucks to see it and him just because – although perhaps a little convoluted – I respect the man for doing something instead of just complaining about the studio system. However, at the time I simply did not have the money. Then there was the limited art house run – which I also missed. Well, after having it fall off my radar for a few months I finally caught the film on Netflix the other night and I have to say, I thought it was fantastic – until the last ten minutes or so.
Smith is a polarizing figure in American cinema to say the least. I grew up with his films and have long been a fan. Then something funny happened – about three or four years ago I realized I kind of hold his movies up by their boot straps. That is to say, they are not as great as I think I previously thought they were. I’m not saying I no longer dig them, because after recent exploratory re-viewings I found for the most part I still do. And Chasing Amy in particular shows no signs of relenting as a movie that absolutely rivets me with the interaction between two leads who normally hold no interest for me (Adams* and Affleck) while being able to make me laugh out loud. However that’s the exception, the masterpiece among the lot, because like the rest of his catalogue or not I’ve definitely come to think of it as work that is not exactly what I’d call high cinema (did I ever really think they were? I don’t know, but I definitely thought they were more important than they actually are)**.
Anyway, none of that is really important here. What is important is how very impressed I was with Red State and then how it kinda let me down in a big way right at the end, a let-down I am trying like hell to hold objectively. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
Let’s start with the highlight – Michael Fucking Parks has been ROBBED by not being nom’d for an Oscar for his performance in the film. I’m not saying he should definitely win – there were other performances this past year that wow’d me more, but to not be nom’d? Really? I was literally in awe the entire time the man was on screen, and while it is true I’ve been a fan since I ‘met’ Parks as the slitheringly lascivious Jean Renault in Twin Peaks, this was just something else entirely.
Next, the camera work. Awesome. I was particularly wowed by the sequence where the final of the three captive kids makes his big break through the heart of the congregation and all over the house looking for an exit. A lot of films do the ‘run with the actor’, handheld thing, but none I can think of have ever done it quite so well. Shades of the passionate, not-afraid-to-keep-it-rolling -when-it’s-hot director we’ve not seen since the aforementioned Chasing Amy, I really felt like the camera work here went flawlessly with the tone and tension on screen, rather than just with the action. I never once felt optically jarred by these fast-paced and frantic moments, but was instead completely drawn in by it. I felt at risk, same as the character Smith made me bond with (despite my not liking him ((the character)) at all). It was as if I was running through that house, up those stairs and all over the place with one big red word flashing through my mind:
John Goodman and Melissa Leo were awesome as well, as was Kevin Alejandro as the begrudgingly accepting lead tactical agent who, when he embraces his orders, makes a point of embracing his orders, whether he agrees with them or not.
Now, the ending. SPOILER
Here’s the deal. There was a moment, when the ‘trumpet’ first sounded and I realized – at about the same time Abin and his flock do – that the massive, haunting sound is indeed not something being produced from inside the compound, nor by any of the forces at war in the moment, a moment when my eyes popped wide and a massive jolt of adrenaline shot up my spine. I thought for the briefest of moments that Smith had defied not only his set-up, not only his background, not only his budget, but EVERY possible expectation he had already set up in his audiencess mind within the context of the excellent first hour and fifteen minutes of this movie. That unearthly sound seemed as though it was going to give me something I had never seen before in film. I thought to myself, “My god man, this is completely unexpected – this is something I can’t believe I’m going to see, this is amazing! What a mindfuck ending – it is the rapture and …”
And then it wasn’t.
What we got for an ending instead I didn’t hate, but I didn’t really like either. I thought there was waaaay too much, “Oh, and by the way, what about this?” Or, “Well what happened then?” and it kinda felt like Dante had stepped in and made a point of baiting me just to give me a “Oh, sorry, did it disappoint you? Did it end on a down note? Well, that’s what life is, a series of down endings…”.
I’m trying to be objective about this, as I always try to look at situations in film such as this keeping in mind that it’s not the film or filmmaker’s problem that I’m bringing my expectations or associations to the table based on their cues. Still, it really just felt kind of like a slacker ending, and the rest of the film was so damn good it just deserved something more.
Either way, I have not stopped thinking about the movie since I watched it two days ago and I’m quite eager to watch it again and see how my wife feels about the ending and how maybe I might look at it differently upon a second viewing.
* Well, truthfully Joey L. Adams holds interest for me, but it’s more because she’s hot than anything else.
** This is interesting in that realizing they are essentially foul-mouthed popcorn flix freed me up to really embrace Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, a flix previously felt like a HUGE misstep to me.