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Laramie Movie Scope:
Red State

An orgy of violence, God and guns

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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August 22, 2013 -- I finally got around to watching “Red State” the other day. I'd been interested in seeing it since I first read about it, but it never came to the local theaters here. I finally got the bluray disc from Netflix. It has lots of extras and a dandy DTS 5.1 Master Audio soundtrack with a sound test feature for surround sound systems. The thing that impressed me most about the film was the amazing performance by Michael Parks. It was a revelation to me.

I remember Parks mainly from an old TV show he starred in, “Then Came Bronson.” He seemed like a laconic, laid-back, minimalist kind of actor back then. I had not noticed him much since then, although he has been in a lot of films and TV shows since that show was on the air. In this movie, he is scary. He plays a charismatic preacher, Abin Cooper. His character is loosely based on Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church, who has made national headlines by picketing the funerals of soldiers and others, causing more grief for grieving families. The movie makes it clear that Cooper and Phelps are different, and is very clear about the nature of that distinction, probably for legal reasons.

Like the Westboro picketers, Cooper's flock also pickets the funeral of a homosexual in the movie, but they go a lot further than hate speech. At Cooper's church services, the congregation actually executes homosexuals and others they consider to be hopeless sinners. Three young men, Travis (played by Michael Angarano of “Haywire”) Jared (Kyle Gallner of “A Nightmare on Elm Street”) and Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) are trapped in a sting operation by the church and sentenced to death for pursuing group sex on the internet.

After members of the church execute one man, the three youths escape from their cell in the basement of the church and gunfire ensues. A deputy sheriff is killed, and all hell breaks loose. An ATF team arrives on the scene, led by Joseph Keenan (played by John Goodman of “Argo”). When a local sheriff, played by Stephen Root, mistakenly shoots and kills one of the hostages, an epic gun battle ensues that is only stopped by divine intervention.

Members of the church are heavily armed and are holding out in a fortified compound. Keenan's boss at the ATF brands the church members, including women and children, as domestic terrorists. The ATF has screwed up the situation, as it did in Waco, Texas in 1993. Keenan is ordered to kill everyone in the compound to eliminate any possible witnesses. Keenan refuses to follow the order unless he sees it in writing. He is not about to take all the blame for this disaster.

The acting in this film is excellent, especially by Parks, who gives a rousing sermon about the decline of morality in the world, and by Academy Award winner Melissa Leo, who plays Sarah Cooper, another gun-toting true believer in the church. John Goodman also is very good in this film in a serious dramatic role. Except for one speech near the end of the movie, the dialog in the film by writer-director Kevin Smith (“Dogma”) is pitch perfect.

In the extras on the disc, Smith says his favorite scene in the movie is the shootout, and it is very good. Smith likes it because it is a big departure from his earlier films, like “Clerks” and “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.” He said watching the shootout is like watching somebody else's movie. Smith said he likes to whiplash the audience. He starts it out like a teen sex comedy, whipping around to a horror film, whipping around again to an action movie, then whipping back in another direction. To Smith, this is fun, to me, it is uneven, but there is no denying the power of this film.

I was with this film right up to that Tarantino-esque speech about dogs near the end, which lost me, but I got back on board right at the end of the film with another speech, and a priceless comment from somebody off-screen, in another prison cell. Michael Parks plays one of the scariest villains I've ever seen in any movie as the true believer, Abin Cooper, and Melissa Leo isn't far behind him. The extreme danger of true believers, combined with the extreme danger of a loose-cannon federal bureaucracy which is not bound by normal restraints when it comes to terrorism, makes for a very frightening story. It is also funny, in a very dark way. This film rates a C+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2013 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)