Reds (1981)

Reds – 1981

Director – Warren Beatty

Starring – Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson and Paul Sorvino

In terms of scale and message, the films generally found on the list of 1001 movies you need to see before you die tend towards epic.  If not in actual length, then in the scope of the story, the message, or even the acting.  Reds is no exception, delivering in each of these areas, but does it live up to the critical praise that I’ve heard going into watching it?  The answer…sort of.

Reds tells the sweeping story of journalist, John Reed, and his on again-off again-on again love interest Louise Bryant, feminist and fellow journalist.  The story of their relationship plays out against the backdrop of the Bolshevik revolution in what used to be Russian, then was the U.S.S.R., and is now Russia again.  The young idealists, find first attraction, then lust, and finally passion in both their marriage, and in the people’s movement taking place across the ocean from their home in New York.  Warren Beatty, acting as director as well as the star, and lead character of the film, plays Reed, an affable yet driven man passionate about the voice of the working man.  Louise, played by Diane Keaton, is determined to be a writer yet has trouble gaining recognition for anything other than being Reed’s girl.

The smoldering relationship between Bryant and Reed is central to the success of the story, whereas the political message was muddied a decent amount for me because of the fact that the film pre-supposes a certain amount of knowledge about world history.  Since I came to the film not knowing as much as I would have liked, I feel that I missed out on a good portion of what I was supposed to be appreciating.  As such I wasn’t as enamored with the film as I feel I would have been otherwise.

In terms of production value, set-pieces, costuming, and feel, the film leaves nothing to the imagination.  We are treated to a rich tapestry of the lives of those living in the early 1900’s.  Some of this production value is seen, while more is added through the inclusion of testimony of those who had lived through these events.  This testimony often served as chapter breaks for the film, and took the form of on-camera interviews discussing the real-life people (Reed and Bryant) being played by Keaton and Beatty.  This tended to give the dramatized portion of the film more weight, more than it would have had on its own at any rate.

With the exception of Diane Keaton (of whom I am just not a fan), the casting of the film was fantastic.  I particularly liked, Beatty, Jack Nicholson as boozy writer Eugene O’Neil, and Maureen Stapleton as the impassioned and deported Emma Goldman.  With the exception of Beatty, each other character was played by someone who was perfectly matched for the role they were playing.  Again with the exception of Mr. Beatty, no one actor was able to steal the limelight and outshine the next one.  That is, of course, not to say that Beatty was bad in the role, or that he did a disservice to the film by acting in it, on the contrary, I would be willing to bet that without his star power the film would never have been made at the scale that it was.  He does, however, turn in the least compelling performance, and is most likely of every other actor and actress in the film to rest on the laurels of good looks.

All in all, Reds was a compelling work that I still don’t feel that I fully appreciate, but I do appreciate it’s and Beatty’s commitment to turning out a quality product.  Not only do I recognize that fact, but I applaud it.  Not as fun or accomplished as Bonnie and Clyde, but well deserving of its place on the list.

“Man, Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton fuck a lot in this movie, every other scene they’re humping each other.” – Ashley

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2 thoughts on “Reds (1981)

  1. Pingback: 1001 Movies – The Complete List « 1001 Movies I Must Comment On Before I Die!

  2. I pretty much agree with all of the points you made in your review.

    One thing you mention that I found very effective and enlightening was the commentary by people who actually lived through the period and knew Jack and Louise. It’s true that their interviews probably gave the film more weight. They also added texture and made the whole story more real.

    The movie really came alive when Jack and Louise left the U.S. for Russia. The cinematography was gorgeous, and many of the scenes just popped. My favorite scene was when Louise was traveling on foot from Finland across snow covered country to return to Jack in Russia, and stands awestruck in a forest watching a huge herd of deer thunder past.

    I found Louise’s character to be wishy washy in the first half of the film–she seemed like a hanger on in the glittering literary scene in New York, just a girl who followed Jack because she was bored with her marriage. Much later in the movie, in Russia, Emma Goldstein says to Louise, “I was wrong about you,” and that’s how I felt, too. I’m not a Diane Keaton fan, either, but I think she did a good job in this role.

    I thought Warren Beatty was believable as a person who genuinely cared about the issues of the revolution. That said, he never stopped being “pretty.” Most of the other characters wore their hair and clothes in the style of the times. For men, that generally meant parted in the middle, slicked back hair. Beatty had a much more fashionable (by current standards) and attractive haircut.

    All in all I liked this film a lot. I never had heard of Jack Reed, so it was also educational.

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