Director: Kevin Smith
Cast: Michael Parks, John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Kerry Bishe, Kyle Gallner, Michael Angarano
Plot: A group of Christians stockpile weapons, turn their land into a fortress and begin executing anyone they believes is a disgrace to God.
I had no idea what to expect from this film, except for a small moment in 2011 when everyone raved about it. Other than its cult status, I knew nothing about this film. The truth is Kevin Smith hardly knows what this film is, as it jumps from genre to lead protagonist every couple of scenes. We end up with a few good ideas strung together, but a messy delivery for a movie.
It starts off with three teenage boys, arranging a foursome online with a 38 year old woman, suggesting that we are going to be watching a teen gross-out comedy, like we would have expected from some of Smith’s other movies. However, fifteen minutes in, we soon learn that this is a clever bit of misdirection. Melissa Leo’s 38 year old woman turns out to be using herself as bait to lure these three ‘sinners’ to the church of crazy priest, Cooper, so they can torture and punish these boys. However, as soon as we are introduced to this group of crazed Christians, the three boys are completely forgotten about and we delve into a stand-off between the church and the FBI, acting under questionable orders from up top.
I guess if I had to pin a genre to Kevin Smith’s movie, I would refer to it as a slow-burning action. When the gun fight breaks out, it doesn’t end till the closing twenty minutes of the movie. However, those turning up to this film for an action will be sorely disappointed. It isn’t really what I would call satisfying action; it feels more like a narrative device to keep the audience on hold, until Smith shows us how his story ends. Your only hope is that you care about the characters enough to see what happens to them by the end of the story.
And in fairness, Smith gives us some pretty awesome characters. The three teenagers are good enough actors, so they are only slightly annoying (but again, they get shoved to the side, as soon as the story speeds up). Michael Parks is the star of the show, as the crazed Reverend Cooper, stealing all of the best lines and giving us a nasty villain to rally against. The closest thing we have to a hero is John Goodman’s tired FBI agent. He shows up late to the movie, but when he does, the film gets a lot better. Goodman instantly makes any film he is in worth watching with his natural stage presence. There is even a surprisingly good turn from little-known actress, Kerry Bishe, who you may recognise from the failed season of Scrubs that tried to keep the series afloat, when Zach Braff left. Despite coming across as a glorified extra for the first half of the movie, Smith trusts her with a pretty good character and when the film begins to dip, Bishe keeps the audiences interested enough to stick around.
There isn’t really a bad character and every actor here is on top form. It is just that Smith cannot control them. Inspired by directors like Tarantino, he gives Goodman and Parks lengthy monologues to show off with. However, these monologues are quite frankly awful. Sure, when we are first introduced to Parks’ antagonist, his sermon about sending the homosexuals to hell is riveting, but it drags on for around five minutes. Also, to close the film, John Goodman narrates the conclusion, although the details seem a little pointless. It wasn’t even as though the actors needed the monologue to show off with. Parks is given so much material to work with and Goodman is amazing with the smaller details, rather than showing off with a large chunk of dialogue.
All in all, the film is a bit of a mess. The themes and characters are really good, but they are all over the place. Smith just seems bored with his own material. It begins focusing on prejudice against homosexuals, but it gets lost when the three teenagers they are torturing are quite clearly straight. It could have gone onto be a ‘Hostel’ or ‘Saw’ style film, but with political and religious undertones, but then Smith gets bored again and needs the FBI to show up with guns. I think that certain people will get this film and run with it, elevating it to cult status (Tarantino admitted to loving it), but for me, I was only kept hooked by the occasional run of good movie-making, which never seemed to last that long.
Final verdict: I can see what Kevin Smith is trying to do with a good story, key themes and some great characters with ideal casting. Yet Smith hasn’t got the directorial skills to pull it off, causing the film to fall flat.