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3.7 out of 5 stars
Red State [Blu-ray]
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 20, 2011
Kevin Smith loves to make movies that alienate people; it's just his thing. His horror/thriller RED STATE isn't quite as potentially-infuriating as DOGMA, perhaps, but it's certainly right up there. The premise is simple: three teens seek sex from a woman who turns out to be the daughter of a Christian fanatic who has taken his religion to extremes. His family cult kills homosexuals, and even though the three teens don't fit the profile, they're close enough for government work. Speaking of which, the A.T.F shows up, and a Wacco-esque standoff ensues. Add in an epilogue worthy of the Coen Brothers, and some wise-cracking that is decidedly Smith's own, and you have an entertaining thriller.

The thing is, religion isn't Smith's target. Yes, Abin Cooper (a superb Michael Parks) and his daughter (Melissa Leo, not quite getting to shine) are religious in the extreme; but the three teens (among whom Michael Angarano stands out) aren't exactly likable either, driven more by their hormones than anything else. On the A.T.F.'s side, we have a morally-confused agent in the form of John Goodman, following orders but not entirely happy about it. None of these characters is entirely likeable (Goodman remains the most sympathetic), but they aren't supposed to be. Smith is exploring humanity's desire for blind belief: in God, in sex, in politics, and every combination thereof. He even divides his cast, in the end credits, into those categories. He condemns, bloodily so, but that doesn't mean he's happy about it.

Parks and Goodman are phenomenal; whatever your political/social views, watch the film for their performances. The supporting cast is solid; look for a great Stephen Root as the local sheriff, and Kevin Pollak as another A.T.F. agent. The dialogue flows smoothly, and the action is actually pretty cool; Smith knows how to show someone getting shot. The film is admittedly a bit didactic, but that's part of its charm: it's nice to see a filmmaker not hedging his bets, and instead giving us exactly what's on his mind. Make no mistake about RED STATE: Kevin Smith isn't setting his sights merely on religious fanatics. He has all of us, to some extent or other, in his cross hairs.
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42 of 50 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 14, 2011
Red State has received more attention for the way director Kevin Smith controversially auctioned the film to himself at Sundance and then chose to distribute it, rather than the real novelty of the film; the fact that it's a horror film directed by Kevin Smith. At least, it's billed that way. Truth is, Red State may have elements of a horror film, but it also has the elements of an action film and the elements of a Kevin Smith film which makes it hard to confine it to one genre. This becomes a problem since the film never settles comfortably for a singular vision and all these elements don't mesh together well. It's imperfections as a film must be noted right away, but it remains a refreshing change of pace for Smith and shows that he does possess the capability to surprise people.

En route to his local high school, Travis (Michael Angarano) spots members of the Five Points Trinity Church protesting the funeral of a recently murdered, homosexual teenager. At school, even the teacher talks about the church and how the most ultra of the ultra-Conservatives have distanced themselves from the politics of Five Points Church. Travis and his friends Jared (Kyle Gallner) and Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun) have other things on their mind though. Jared has set up a meeting online with an older woman for all three of them. When they go to meet the woman, they are ambushed by Sarah Cooper (Melissa Leo) and the rest of the churchgoers. Brought to the church, the head pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) takes center stage and reveals that the church is much more sinister than anybody believed.

The film begins like a typical modern horror movie. Teenagers, their heads full of the potential for sex, find themselves in a dangerous situation. Red State abruptly changes gears once its three principal characters are kidnapped and the remainder of the film is basically a standoff between the church compound and ATF Agents, unaware of the kidnapped teenagers inside. There are other familiar faces in the cast, including John Goodman and Kevin Pollak as two ATF agents and Stephen Root as the closeted local sheriff.

Smith's film is inspired by the Westboro Baptist Church and their leader Fred Phelps, the group that the Ku-Klux-Klan dismissed as too extreme in their intolerance. Smith has constructed the Five Points Church and its members from the WBC, but the Five Points Church is a cinematic hybrid of the WBC, the Branch Davidians, and the Manson Family. In watching Michael Parks play Abin Cooper, I'm quite sure he looked to the respective leaders of these groups/cults as there are visible aspects of Phelps, David Koresh, and Charles Manson in the performance. Phelps is the most obvious, but Parks is much more charismatic than that. Smith reveals his presence behind the camera when Abin Cooper enters the film and, with Jared trapped in a nearby cage, preaches to his congregation for nearly fifteen minutes about his extremist views. His dialogue isn't satirical either and besides the kidnapped teenagers on stage him with him, Cooper's preaching is actually less extreme than that of Fred Phelps' clan. I must emphasize again that Cooper preaches for nearly fifteen minutes. Red State is only 80 minutes. From his first scene to his final scene, Parks chews the scenery like gum without ever going over-the-top. A character actor, best known for playing a recurring police officer in several Quentin Tarantino films, he's able to really make an impression here. With his commanding performance at the center, he brings instant prestige to the film. Red State has been putting itself in place for Academy Award consideration. Say what you will about the film itself and Kevin Smith as a writer and director; Parks may have a real chance. It's a bravura performance, flamboyant and brilliant enough to consider Oscar-worthy. These are the best performances that Kevin Smith has ever seen to fruition. No one gives a weak performance and don't let the horror tag fool you; this is a film driven by performances. Melissa Leo, an actress of unbridled talent, is extreme here but great as usual. John Goodman meanwhile is given a really meaty role, bringing unexpected depth to a film that doesn't require it.

There's not a frame of Red State that even remotely resembles anything that Smith has done before, but it's clearly his work. Billed as a horror film, the film is heavy on blood but light on both gore and actual horror. Unheard and unseen of in horror films of late, there's also a strong emphasis on character and dialogue. Red State is much closer in spirit to an exploitation film, as its subject matter is built on the foundation of the exploitation genre; taking a topical subject and exploiting it to extreme lengths. The latter half of the film is a large-scale stand-off sequence, complete with shoot-outs, moral dilemmas, and several onscreen deaths. Smith's forte is character and dialogue, but he's quite good with shoot-outs too. The laziness that marred the action sequences of Cop Out, his previous film, isn't present here. There was obviously more passion behind the camera as well as in the editing room.

Smith has publicly noted that he considers himself more of a writer than a director, yet ironically the biggest imperfections in Red State stem from the writing, with Smith never settling on a particular direction for his film. Smith has a gift for dialogue and it suits the film well here, but the dialogue between the teenaged characters in earlier scenes is heavy-handed; like it's trying to be vulgar, rather than letting vulgarity illustrate the mind-set of these characters. Smith has said that this would be a straight-forward horror film, with no comedy. Well, there is some comedy; there's just no toilet humor. The epilogue especially veers into comedy (of a satirical nature), but doesn't betray what came before it. Since he never settles specifically into the horror genre, the comedy keeps things interesting. One of the best moments in the film is also one of the funniest, with Smith delivering the film's final line off-screen. It's hilarious, but the symbolic nature of him delivering the line works on a much deeper level than just a director cameo pining for laughs.

There's a lack of direction, as Smith's horror film never allows itself to be categorized. It's not horrific enough to be horror, nor is there enough action for it to be an action film. Smith could have made an indictment of religious extremism in America, but chose not to. Perhaps Smith believed that showing the group, who don't do anything in the film that hasn't been perpetrated by real fundamentalists in the name of religion, speaks volumes by itself. While there are no profound statements made here about religion or anything else, Red State is not a failure and is an enjoyable film. It's well directed, with great performances and great dialogue; entertaining and much better than most of the crap that passes for horror/exploitation nowadays.

I admit that it's not the horror film that Smith promised, but it is better than most of the "horror" films audiences have been treated to in recent years. It also proves that Smith isn't the one-note director he's been accused of being. Red State is not a great film, it's not perfect, and I could make suggestions on what could have been improved, but Smith needs to be given credit for making a dark, fun movie. It lacks a profound or even profoundly satirical look at the fundamentalists he's going after, but Smith's final line sums everything up perfectly. When it comes to dealing with religious extremists of this sort, it's really the only thing you can say.

GRADE: B
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66 of 85 people found the following review helpful
I had the pleasure of seeing this movie on the Red State tour when it made its way to Seattle. John Goodman gives a stunning performance and this tale of morality and the choices we make is a brilliant story. Critics of Smith's visual style will be surprised to see a movie as visually interesting as the story is gripping and the characters well developed and intriguing.
I love the shades of gray within the story. Everyone has their motives for their actions good and bad and much like real life, there are no clear cut good guys and bad guys. It's not that kind of story.
I am really looking forward to seeing it again and sharing it with all my friends who did not have a chance to see it while it was on tour.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2013
What an intense movie this is! As a long time fan of Kevin Smith, I was surprised at how harsh and gritty this flick is. I loved it. Michael Parks is pee in your pants scary as Pastor Abin Cooper. I also like that is not really gory. I like it when a movie can be really mean and nasty without having blood all over the place. That's not to say that there isn't any red in Red State. Oh yes, there will be blood. John Goodman, of course, is awesome. I will end my review by quoting Quentin Tarantino off the back of the movie's box, "I #&%*@#! love this movie!"
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2012
I am definitely a Kevin Smith fan. That said, this was only so-so. Not horrible by any stretch, and entertaining for the time alotted, but that's it. It doesn't do anything new, and is pretty much a self-indulgent romp through stereotypes with a few troubled navel-gazers thrown in to make it less monochromatic. There are some great performances by Parks and Goodman, and it's pretty well done, but the story is nothing special at all.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2012
Kevin Smith steals the headlines and paints a "Coming of Age, Extremist Ruby Ridge meets Waco meets Westboro Baptist." Extremists exposed. Smith cuts no slack. GUTTY
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2012
Three young men find an online dating site where an older woman is propositioning guys for sex. But the advert is a trap, and they find themselves prisoners of a fundamentalist Christian cult who are trying to purge the world of what they see as amorality brought about by sexual permissiveness and tolerance. When their activities draw the attention of law enforcement officials, the stage is set for a violent confrontation.

Kevin Smith is best-known for his string of comedic movies based on pop culture and lowbrow humour: Clerks, Mallrats, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and so on. He is also known for his interest in religion and theological debates, which, combined with humour, have formed the basis for arguably his most interesting movie to date, Dogma. Red State marks Smith's return to examining religion but this time around there are no laughs: the film is a straight-up drama.

After almost twenty years spent making comedies, it's good to see Smith trying out new ideas and breaking new ground for himself as a film-maker. It's such a shame then that Red State is a flat-out mess of a film. Many of the movie's weaknesses are also present in Smith's earlier films, but comedies tend to be much more forgiving of long run-on scenes and structural imperfections. Dramas, especially those with an undercurrent of psychological horror, are much less tolerant of such issues.

This problem can best be summed up by the movie's first half-hour. In the first fifteen minutes we are introduced to our three main characters, about whom we virtually learn nothing at all. Aside from their physical appearances, they are interchangeable and do nothing to attract our sympathy or interest. These scenes also establish the presence of a fundamentalist nutjob community in the town, that the town's sheriff has some personal problems and that these three guys are obsessed with sex. The following fifteen minutes form one, incredibly long and tedious scene in which the film's antagonist rants on against the evils plaguing America. Because of this John Goodman, the movie's biggest name, doesn't even show up until halfway through the picture.

The initial half of the film plays around with the ideas of psychological horror, such as the idea of the three prisoners being tortured or forced to watch the execution of other captives. But Smith doesn't have the patience for this and it isn't long before he ditches the idea in favour of a massive Waco-style shoot-out. Any attempt to engage seriously with the issues raised by the film are thrown out the window the second the shotguns and machine guns start being handed out and it isn't long before we are in the middle of what feels like the longest siege scene in American film history. Because of the failure to set up the action scenes in more depth, they also feel rather trite and manipulative, with Smith borrowing the visual imagery of religious cults and sieges such as Waco without actually engaging with them in any substantive way.

The movie does shine a few times: Goodman is great as normal and gets the best characterisation in the movie. Michael Parks is also excellent as the antagonist preacher leading the cult, even selling some of the worst-written scenes and dialogue in the movie. Kerry Bishe isn't given a lot to work with as the preacher's morally-divided daughter, but gives a solid performance as well. Pretty much everyone else in the film is forgettable. The script has potential, but is overwritten with dialogue scenes that go on for far too long after their point is made.

Smith does attempt to introduce some moral complexity to the film by shining a light on the dubious activities of the American government in dealing with terrorism, but again in such a ham-fisted way that it comes off as both crushingly obvious and an excuse for more shoot-outs and deaths. And the less said about the ludicrous ending, the better.

Red State (**) shows Kevin Smith trying something new in his career, which is laudable, and also has a few good performances and ideas in it. However, it is also not very well-written, its structure and pacing is shot to hell and the serious issues it attempts to raise come across as paper-thin excuses for scenes of violent carnage. The film teeters on the edge of exploiting real, serious and tragic news stories for cheap thrills, which I am certain was not the director's intention.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Wow who would have thought that Kevin Smith made this movie? it is nothing like his previous works but it's really good it is super intense and it keeps you at the edge of your seat.
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17 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2011
I was eager to watch this because I loved the intelligence, and social criticism of Dogma. I was disappointed. I could understand the main plot, but the finale was very weak....one of the cult understands way more than she should be able to in the midst of the action....govt orders are screwy and illogical. I am all for painting with a brush that reveals, but when it gets beyond belief any message is muddied.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
But it's really not a good movie. Violent and cruel for no reason, lacking in plot and over acted. I am a Kevin Smith fan and a supporter of doing these kinds of films differently, but this isn't it.
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