Red State, Kevin Smith, 88 mins (18)
The Debt, John Madden, 113 mins (15)

This week's villains: terrorist preacher or Nazi eugenicist – with either, you'll be gripped

It may be a backhanded compliment, but one of the most impressive aspects of Kevin Smith's Red State is how unlike a Kevin Smith film it is.

Whatever you think of Clerks, Chasing Amy and the rest, Smith would be the first to acknowledge that his work is notorious for its loose-at-the-seams plotting and its prolix monologues about sex and/or Star Wars. If you needed a writer-director to furnish brisk pacing and white-knuckle action, he'd be the last person you'd call. Nonetheless, a year on from Cop Out, a film which showed just how horribly he can screw up those very elements, Smith has made an exhilarating, 1970s-style thrill ride which shows that he can do them well, too.

The story gets under way as three teenage boys drive out to the sticks to meet an older woman (Melissa Leo) who's promised them sex on-line. A couple of drugged beers later, the boys wake up in a fortified religious compound where a minister (Michael Parks) is delivering a fire-and-brimstone sermon. He and his congregation are caricatures of Fred Phelps's Westboro Baptist Church, the hate-mongers best known in the UK from Louis Theroux's documentaries, but there isn't much exaggeration.

The scary thing about Parks's preacher is that, in contrast with the standard horror-movie villain, he isn't out to prove how scary he is. He comes across as an unremarkable, plainly dressed man who happens to believe that sinners deserve to die, and who has the scripture and the firepower to back up that belief.

A thriller with him at its heart would be gripping enough, but just when you assume that's what you're getting, Red State shifts its focus. Its new protagonist, John Goodman, is a government agent who's informed by his superiors that Parks has been reclassified as a terrorist. Goodman and his men are authorised to break into the compound, guns blazing, and suddenly the film isn't just evoking the Westboro Baptist Church, but the Waco siege. It confronts us with two different forms of American extremism, each one armed to the teeth with automatic weaponry, and leaves us to work out which is worse. It's bracingly unpredictable. You never know who's about to be shot in the head or who's going to do the shooting.

The disappointment is that, once it's set out its ideas, Red State comes to an abrupt halt. Its bathetic conclusion arrives well before the story has fulfilled its potential. All the same, it's not often that you can charge Smith with doing too little with his concepts, rather than too much. Red State isn't just his best film, but the first of his films that should have been longer.

The Debt is another thriller that's tougher and more complex than you'd

expect of its creators. A remake of an Israeli hit, it's co-written by Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, who collaborated on Stardust, Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class, so it's a surprise to see that it doesn't have any super-powered action or knockabout humour, but weighty issues and a saturnine mood instead.

In the film's bookending sequences, set in 1997, Helen Mirren plays a retired Mossad agent who's lionised for her part in capturing a Nazi eugenicist (Jesper Christensen) 30 years earlier. But Mirren isn't comfortable with the acclaim, and a flashback to the mission shows us why. In this central section, her younger self (Jessica Chastain) is billeted in a flat in East Berlin with two fellow agents, Marton Csokas and Avatar's Sam Worthington. She has the worst job of the three: Christensen now works as a gynaecologist, and the only way to get close to him is for her to become his patient. This situation leads to an unbearably tense scene that fully justifies Chastain's rising-star status, but it pays off for the agents when they snare their quarry. Unfortunately, transferring him to Israel isn't so simple. They're forced to keep Christensen imprisoned with them in their flat, where he can play mind games reminiscent of The Silence of the Lambs – the difference being that Clarice Starling didn't have to share a bathroom with Hannibal Lecter.

With a novel's worth of story to cover, it's understandable that The Debt never quite finds its subject: is it a film about catching a war criminal, about being stuck in a room with him, about a love triangle between secret agents, or the pressures that the past can put on the present? But if it's not perfect, it's still a rich, well- directed espionage thriller, proof that Gary Oldman and co aren't playing the only spy game in town.

Next Week:

Nicholas Barber sees Woody Allen's biggest-ever hit, Midnight in Paris

Also Showing: 02/10/2011

The Green Wave (80 mins, 15)

Urgent documentary about the demonstrations in Iran in 2009. Animation is used to dramatise the horrific reprisals.

What's Your Number? (107 mins, 15)

Anna Faris decides to track down her 20 exes, and enlists her hunky neighbour, Chris Evans, to help. Despite all the swearing, it's as predictable and false as romantic comedies get.

The Woman (100 mins, 18)

An all-American dad finds a feral young woman in the woods, and chains her up in his cellar. For a while, it's a tart black comedy, but the gore and the violence against women make it difficult to stomach.

Red, White & Blue (100 mins, 18)

A tantalising indie drama about Texan drifters turns into a phenomenally unpleasant revenge thriller.

Guilty of Romance (112 mins, 18)

And if the two films above don't sate your appetite for sex and extreme violence, you could try this pretentious Japanese drama about a servile housewife who becomes a prostitute.

Broken Lines (97 mins)

It's not surprising that this miserable north London drama has been gathering dust for three years. Paul Bettany and Olivia Williams give stronger supporting performances than the film deserves.

Cane Toads: The Conquest 3D (85 mins, PG)

Amusing documentary about the toxic toads which are hopping across Australia in their millions.

Film Choice

Alain Delon and Romy Schneider keep cool in La Piscine, Jacques Deray's balmy 1969 psycho-drama, now re-released. Meanwhile, Ryan Gosling takes the genre of 1980s action thriller for a spin in Drive, set in LA, the latest from Danish hipster Nicolas Winding Refn.

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
arts + entsFor a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
booksNew book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past