In 2006, I had the chance to do a long phone interview with Kevin Smith. The man was in a good mood and talked with enthusiasm about his latest directorial effort, Clerks 2, clearly a very personal project and, in my opinion, the best thing he’s ever made.
Since then, if you’ve been following the filmmaker’s countless tweets, blogs and podcasts, you know that things have changed in many ways for him. There was the relatively disappointing box-office performance of Zack and Miri Make a Porno, the Seth Rogen vehicle in which he tried to beat Judd Apatow at his own game. After that, Smith surprised many by accepting for the first time to direct a film he hadn’t written, the Bruce Willis-Tracy Morgan 80s-style buddy cop comedy Cop Out. That film easily became his biggest commercial hit ever, but the critical response was so viciously negative that Smith swore off critics altogether.
Other controversies arose around him at that time and since, including the silly incident when he was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight because he was allegedly "too fat to fly" and his misunderstood announcement at Sundance that he would self-distribute his latest feature, Red State, ostensibly because he doesn’t believe in the conventional movie business model anymore.
So basically, Kevin Smith has had many reasons to get angry these past few years, at journalists, at airlines, at the film industry… Having now seen Red State, which had its Canadian premiere during Fantasia’s opening night last week, it appears that the former Silent Bob is also pissed off about more serious matters, starting with Christian fundamentalists who preach anti-homosexual hatred.
Inspired by Fred Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church and their bullshit "God Hates Fags" campaign, but also by the Waco siege and the U.S. government’s post-9/11 excesses, Smith has put together a violently nihilistic film that comes off like an unholy cross between Hostel, There Will Be Blood and Die Hard, if that makes any sense. Going back and forth between horror, action and black comedy, all the while blasting away at religion and politics, Red State blends genres and juggles tones in ways that call to mind Quentin Tarantino or the Coen brothers.
This is the Kevin Smith of Dogma back with a vengeance, delivering a gritty-as-fuck flick that’s not without its flaws (a bit too much exposition here, a shaky scene there), but that skilfully pushes the audience’s buttons more often than not. For what it’s worth, it certainly played like gangbusters at Fantasia.
Talking about it with various folks after the screening, I did run into a few people who hated it, but even those had nothing but praise for Michael Parks and his riveting portrayal of Pastor Abin Cooper. I personally also got a kick out of Nicholas Braun, Michael Angarano and Kyle Gallner as the hilariously sleazy teenagers who inadvertently put the plot into motion, Melissa Leo as one of the most fanatical members of the Cooper family, and John Goodman as an ATF agent who shows up two-thirds of the way through and practically walks away with the movie.
Red State is scheduled to open in Canadian theatres this August.
Much to his chagrin, Kevin Smith wasn’t able to make it up here for the Canadian premiere of Red State at Fantasia, though he did tape an uproariously funny video intro. But the director of Clerks, Mallrats and Chasing Amy will be in Montreal during the Just For Laughs festival with his long-time friend and collaborator Scott Mosier for a live performance of SModcast, their always highly entertaining podcast. At Place des Arts’ Cinquième Salle, July 28. www.smodcast.com