Dogma is probably Kevin Smith’s first real film. While it’s not my favorite of his (I’m a sucker for Mallrats) and he had other critical hits before this, I think this is the first time he used the medium of film to really say something important about the world. This was also the first time he was able to have big scale special effects and big name actors (though one of the biggest A-list actors in the film, Ben Affleck was a Smith staple before stardom). This was a very personal project for Smith, a Catholic school graduate, and he waited until he could make it just right. He had the first draft completed before Clerks but rewrote it seven times before he had the budget to do his story justice. The message of the film is, while there’s nothing wrong with believing in God, organized religion twists the teachings and brings out the worst in humanity.
Two angels (played by Matt Damon and Affleck) were kicked out of Heaven by God centuries ago and banished to Wisconsin. They are informed by an anonymous tipper that there is a loophole in Catholic dogma that could get them back into Heaven. What they don’t know is that if they reenter Heaven, it will bring on the end of the World. The voice of God (Alan Rickman) sends the last living relative of Jesus Christ (Linda Fiorentino) to stop them. On her journey she meets a variety of biblical characters and Kevin Smith’s favorite duo, Jay and Silent Bob, and is tested by vengeful muse Azrael (Jason Lee) and the angels themselves. Along the way, the many characters discuss the evils of organized religion, false idols in pop culture, and what God and Jesus are/were really like. Smith has said the role of the filmmaker is to create your ideal world, which is why he often makes films featuring characters that wax poetic about superhero genitalia. But I think Dogma represents this belief much more and is personal in a way few filmmakers dare to attempt.
Damon and Affleck are a lot of fun together as the two disgruntled angels. They really have amazing chemistry together and it’s a shame they don’t work more together. Damon plays against type as the dumber of the duo. He’s really hilarious. Affleck is the more sullen of the two and eventually breaks down, overcome with his hatred of humanity. While he was in a string of blockbusters that tainted his reputation as an actor, he can really shine when given the right material. The scene where they terrorize the Mooby’s executive board is a highlight of the movie. Fellow Smith regular Jason Lee also stands out as the villainous Azrael. He owes his acting career to Smith, who gave the inexperienced former professional skateboarder the lead in Mallrats, but he really came into his own as an actor quickly.
Getting to work with Alan Rickman was a milestone for Smith. He approached Rickman after finding out he was a fan of Chasing Amy. While he’s known for dramatic work, Rickman is magic in comedy. Smith’s particularly wordy, often intelligent dialogue was a perfect fit for Rickman’s dry delivery. One cute story from the making of the film was that Smith warned longtime pal Jason Mewes (Jay) that a respected actor like Rickman wouldn’t tolerate him goofing off on set. Mewes took this very seriously and made sure he memorized the entire script (not just his lines, the entire script) so he wouldn’t anger Rickman.
Rickman plays the voice of God, but Smith’s casting of God was controversial. He chose singer Alanis Morissette who is very adorable as the creator of all mankind. She cannot speak because her voice kills her human creations and she isn’t very good at handstands. She is almost Harpo Marxesque in her sweetness.
Smith is known for reusing actors. I always like seeing artists who clearly enjoy working together and think it says a lot about all involved as people. One actor Smith said he wouldn’t work with again was his lead in this film, Linda Fiorentino. The two apparently did not get along and Fiorentino would go days without speaking to Smith. On the DVD commentary (I recommend listening to the audio commentary on Kevin Smith’s films, they are usually fun) he confessed that in hindsight, he should have cast Janeane Garofalo instead.
I can’t decide if Jay and Silent Bob are the best fit in this story. It’s very different than any other story they’re in and is the only one that exists outside their regular universe. Smith’s first three films were very interconnected, with characters from Mallrats referring to characters from Clerks, ect, but Dogma is fairly independent, with Jay and Bob being the only link. This film has Smith’s wittiest dialogue ever, with some of the lines having an acrobatic complexity and Jay dick humor kind of brings down the intelligence, but maybe that was Smith’s intention.
I feel like this was Smith last great film. He seems to have lost his way as a filmmaker and has resorted to either repeating himself or trying to copy other people’s successful styles. I haven’t seen Red State, but I think it would be in Smith’s best interest to focus on satire, pointing out the bullshit he sees in the world.