About a week ago now, I rented Prom from iTunes because I needed to review it for Man, I Love Films. It's a cheesy tween movie, but one of the better stories involved an actor named Nicholas Braun. So this week, I'm taking a gander on iTunes again and am surprised when I see Kevin Smith's Red State available for rent. And I'm even more surprised when I find the likable Nicholas Braun from super-innocent Prom in a film that couldn't be any more different... probably almost the exact opposite.
Red State follows three teenagers, Travis (Michael Angarano), Jarod (Kyle Gallner), and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun), as they travel to a nearby small town to have sex with a woman (Melissa Leo) who propositioned them on the internet. But when they arrive at her trailer, she ends up drugging them. And when they wake up, they're being held hostage at an extreme fundamentalist church led by Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). Things become a struggle for survival, especially after the sheriff (Stephen Root) calls in for help and the government, led by Agent Keenan (John Goodman), steps in search the place... resulting in a deadly stand-off and shooting war between the two factions.
This film is nothing like any other Kevin Smith film you've ever seen, with the exception of one thing: There is some hella good dialogue in this movie (sans Star Wars reference). The writing is fantastic. Between the unsettling, almost neverending monologue from Michael Parks' character, or any of the very dark humor from Goodman, this is a very smart film.
What really helps back up the writing is the acting. The highlights, of course, are Goodman, Parks, and Leo. Goodman was my favorite part of the film, and he did have some of the best lines. If you're going to see this movie for only one thing, see it for John Goodman. The others are excellent in their own right, but they're much more serious and sinister. All great performances, but for different reasons.
The film has one detractor, and it's a big one. The film has trouble finding a clear narrative. The first half of the movie leads you to believe the focus is on the three teenagers and their situation. However, almost the second Goodman is introduced, the teens are all but forgotten for the next chunk of the film. In fact, most of what was set up in the first half except for the extremists themselves is all but forgotten. It's almost as if Kevin Smith decided to change what kind of movie he wanted to make halfway through, realized he needed to wrap up the original story near the end, and just... does so. But the whole process is a bit choppy and uneven.
It's not a perfect movie, but it has some really good ideas. The idea that any belief taken to the extreme can be more dangerous than anything is at the core of the film. Another idea this film explores is that it's not only Muslims are terrorists like most of America wants to believe. But it's any extremist who wants to hurt or attack a country or its citizens based on their beliefs--and, of course, this film puts Christianity at the forefront, which--despite being accurate--is gutsy in this day and age. And I strongly respect and appreciate it for that. Still, on an entertainment level, it's very strong in some areas, but the overall film could have used more tweaking.