Michael Parks, a character actor who enjoyed a career renaissance in recent decades thanks to high profile roles in films by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Smith, died Wednesday at the age of 77.
Parks made his acting debut in a small role in 1961 on the sitcom The Real McCoys, and, racked up dozens of roles on both television and feature films, most notably as the casino owner and drug runner Jean Renault on the second season of Twin Peaks.
After years playing bit roles in made-for-TV movies, Westerns and slasher films, Parks was cast as Texas Ranger Earl McGraw in Rodriguez’ 1996 vampire flick From Dusk ’til Dawn. Quentin Tarantino, an associate of Rodriguez’, then cast Parks in a dual role for Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Volume 2; in the former, he reprised the McGraw role, while the latter found the actor playing Mexican pimp Esteban Vihaio.
Parks would portray McGraw once more for Tarantino and Rodriguez in the directors’ Grindhouse films. Tarantino also recruited Parks for a small role in Django Unchained.
Parks’ career revival also resulted in roles in Ben Affleck’s Argo, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford and a pair of Kevin Smith horror flicks, Red State and Tusk.
“Michael was, and will likely forever remain, the best actor I’ve ever known. I wrote both [Red State] and [Tusk] FOR Parks, I loved his acting so much,” Smith posted on Wednesday. “He was, hands-down, the most incredible thespian I ever had the pleasure to watch perform. And Parks brought out the absolute best in me every time he got near my set.”
At the time of his death, Parks was cast in the upcoming Christian Bale film Hostiles.
In a Middle American town, the Cooper Clan, an extremely right-wing Christian group are protesting at a young man’s funeral. They are waving placards bearing slogans such as ‘God Hates Fags’ and ‘God Hates America’… clearly based on the idiots from the Westboro Baptist Church.
Three teenage boys, desperate for sex, answer an advertisement offering all they’re after. They drive out of town to rendezvous with the woman (Melissa Leo) from the ad and on the way side swipe a parked car in which the married town sheriff (Kevin Pollack) is receiving oral sex from a Mexican man. Upon arrival at the trailer, they meet the woman from the ad, she gives them a few beers and they wake up captive in the Cooper’s church.
Reverend Cooper (Michael Parks) is sermonising about the moral decay in the world, how God must be feared and various typically religious extremist views. The kids then witness the clan execute the Mexican from the sheriff’s car earlier that night. Things have taken a serious turn for the kids…
Well known for his early break through cult classic ‘Clerks’ and it’s loosely linked follow ups ‘Mallrats’, Chasing Amy’ and ‘Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back’, Red State is complete change in style and direction from Kevin Smith, the film’s writer/director/editor/producer and as of the Sundance Festival earlier this year, the film distributor. Advertised misleadingly as ‘A horror film from Kevin Smith’, Red State doesn’t fit neatly into any distinctive genre. It is horrific, dramatic, political, daring, satirical and headline baiting, or at least it would be if it were given any space in the mainstream media.
There are no real characters to cheer for in the movie; maybe the three kids are as close as we get to ‘likeable’. Not taking any side, Smith attacks both the religious right and the government with equal vitriol; he clearly feels that America is under siege from within and this is his howl of rage against those he deems to be (ir)responsible.
The script is well written and Smith gifts his cast with some wonderful dialogue. His cast are excellent; the three kids and Kevin Pollack are solid; Melissa Leo and the Cooper Clan are all terrifyingly believable and John Goodman also turns in a fantastic performance as a weary, sceptical ATF agent. However Michael Parks steals every scene as the clearly insane Reverend Cooper.
The movie has divided critics and audiences alike; it’s not as good or as bad as most reviewers will have you believe. I really enjoyed it and hope that Smith continues to stretch himself more artistically in the future, that would be far more preferable than another ‘Cop Out’.
Quality: 4 out of 5 stars
Any good: 3 out of 5 stars