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Red State by Kevin Smith

Red State by Kevin Smith

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For the first time in his career, Kevin Smith (the comedy author and director who made his name with American indie cinema’s greatest hit, Clerks in 1994) abandons comedy, although not entirely his trademark earthy dialogue. Screened as a world première at the Sundance Festival and as an international première on the Piazza Grande, Red State is a stark, uncompromising film that borrows from the horror film to deal with a highly sensitive subject in the USA, that of fundamentalist sects.

In a small American town, three teenage boys reply to a sex ad. It is in fact a set-up and the three goofballs find themselves imprisoned on a farm by religious fanatics who are planning the supreme punishment for sinners. The crazy preacher is played by a very impressive Michael Parks, the actor who was Adam in John Huston’s The Bible and who subsequently worked mainly in television until rediscovered by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.

Kevin Smith offers him a tour de force via a long sermon (shortened in the final version of the film, because it was deemed commercially problematic) that precedes a ritual execution. Kevin Smith confirms he is a great filmmaker in terms of the spoken word. His dialogue is the most inventive in contemporary American cinema, alongside that of Tarantino. But Smith also proves himself here to be an excellent action director

The fundamentalists’ farm is stormed by the FBI (led by the excellent John Goodman), who are ordered to leave nobody alive. The final shoot-out recalls Sam Peckinpah at the top of his game, in terms of both the spectacle of violence and the pessimism of his perspective on modern America, its institutions and pathologies.

Olivier Père
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