Ethan Revisits 'Red State' During Kevin Smith's Cross Country Tour
by Ethan Anderton
March 15, 2011
Back in January we were fortunate enough to catch the world premiere of Kevin Smith's first foray into horror (though the director has jokingly called Jersey Girl a worthy entry in the genre, too) with the film Red State. While many online writers seemed to be more concerned with a lack of an auction for the distribution rights to the film rather than the film itself, I gave the film a mostly positive review siting only pacing issues with some scenes/sequences going on for far too long. Thankfully, Smith later said he would edit the film a bit before going on a cross country tour, and I recently got a chance to check out his new cut. How did it turn out?
Well, remember that a large bulk of criticism was delivered to the long diatribe and monologues of the film's extremist villain Abin Cooper, a preacher who endlessly bashes homosexuals and speaks of their banishment to hell and abominable behavior. While Michael Parkes in the role of Cooper masterfully delivers Smith's words with poison and hate, even his phenomenal performance couldn't stop the scene from dragging on far too long. Thankfully, Smith realized this as he took off his director's hat and put on his editor's hat during the Sundance screening. The result is a monologue that has been nearly cut in half and allows for a much smoother and quicker transition into action and bloodshed.
Of course, the vile, hateful poetry I first commented on is still just as powerful, but it's not nearly as redundant. This is actually the bulk of the seven minutes of footage Smith said ended up on the cutting room floor after his first screening of the film at Sundance in January. During the Q&A after the screening I attended at Butler University in Indianapolis, I was able to carry on a conversation with Smith about his changes and why he made them. Surprisingly he said the monologue was not as difficult to cut as one might think despite the fact that every line Parkes delivers is full of raw emotion, pure evil and unrivaled hate.
In addition, without ruining any of the film's ending, Smith has taken out a few bits of contrived dialogue that would otherwise spoon-feed his ultimate message to the audience. One particular cut line comes from John Goodman, and Smith said that his performance and delivery of one previous line was enough to get his point across without throwing it in the audiences face. Subtle changes like this won't be noticed by general audiences, but as someone who has seen the original cut of the film, these edits really do help the film feel more natural.
Perhaps the most satisfying portion of the film comes from a Coen Brothers-esque ending (which I won't reveal here) that comes in the form of a scene that will initially have you in disbelief, followed by a coda riddled with Smith's trademark wit and blunt dialogue. It's scenes like this that not only make Red State the most powerful film Kevin Smith has every written or directed, but a generally hard-hitting blend of real-life issues and dramatized horror and suspense.
In addition, upon a second viewing I was able to more carefully enjoy and scrutinize the performances of big talents like Goodman, Parkes and Melissa Leo (who both deliver Oscar worthy performances in the film), great character actors like Stephen Root and young actors like Kerry Bishé, Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner and Nicholas Braun. Obviously Hollywood's heavy hitters are expected to deliver the goods, but the young upcoming talents definitely impress as well. I haven't seen Smith pull performances this good since Chasing Amy.
No matter what the naysayers think, this is a film that would certainly be worth a second look, especially with Smith's new cut, and if it were from any other filmmaker, would be immediately praised. However, because Smith has become the target of a lot of nerd rage and unfounded anger (mostly from his return to his independent roots and brutally honest Twitter updates) the film has sadly been thrown under the bus. Luckily, Smith hasn't lost a step, and in the face of his fans on this tour is extremely grateful and humbled by their support and praise. The director is also very proud of his film, and he certainly has the right to be since it's the most bold, daring and well-written film of his career. Anyone else seen Red State yet?