80s US Bracket: Reds (1981)

The second film in my second match-up in the first round of the 80s US Bracket features one man of import and one man of import only, the dad from ALF!

Written By: Warren Beatty, Trevor Griffiths, Peter S. Feibleman, Elaine May & Jeremy Pikser
Directed By: Warren Beatty

As a portrait of the times, Reds is most definitely an astounding success. The film moves quickly from setting to setting, yet it stays long enough at each entry in its travelogue that I constantly felt that I was present during important moments in history. The fault in Reds isn’t its length or its attempts to be an epic film, it manages both of those quite well, rather the fault with Reds resides in its cumbersome and uninteresting love story between Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton. If that love story had stayed as a simple backdrop to the painting of the times that was taking place then it wouldn’t be an issue, but it becomes the focal point of the movie far too often and leaves Reds a well made and engaging but ultimately uneven film.

The moments spent with the IWW, the Socialist Party or the Bolshevik Revolution are wonderful little bits of film making from Beatty. Not only does he recreate the era of the early 1900’s visually as well as through dialogue and the mannerisms of his actors, but he manages to capture the feeling of that particular place and time perfectly. When Beatty storms into a Socialist Party meeting in Chicago in 1919 I believe that meeting is actually taking place, I believe he ends up in a Finnish prison, I believe in every setting, place, costume and character. That amount of belief isn’t easy for a film to produce and in many ways the ability of Reds to completely engross me in its setting is its greatest asset.

On the flip side of the coin there is the aforementioned romance between Keaton and Beatty, a romance that I never quite cared about because I wanted more of the Bolsheviks, the Socialists, more of history and less of a romance that I didn’t find worth my time. The characters of John Reed and Louis Bryant are hard to relate to from the start, at least as far as romantic ideas are concerned, and they never cross that line to where their relationship is one I want to succeed, fail or see play out in shape or form. That’s not to say I need an on-screen couple to adhere to my romantics ideals, but I do need their relationship to be interesting and that wasn’t the case with the relationship in Reds.

The film remains tethered to that relationship, much to its detriment, especially in the last hour or so. At various times it breaks from its historical setting to handle relationship issues and this results in the flow of the film becoming fractured. Narrative flow is an important part of a film, at least in my eyes, and in that realm Reds fails in a very big way. Reds is two distinctly different films, two films that never quite work together, one film that is interesting and another that is highly forgettable. If the romantic angle had been dropped I am confident that Reds would have been a much better picture.

I think what I’ve written so far lays out my feelings on Reds in adequate fashion. Warren Beatty made the film he wanted to make, and half of it was a film I really wanted to see. The other half I could have done without, but Beatty included the love story and there isn’t anything I can do about that. For its amazing depiction of the early 1900’s Communist movement in America, and abroad, Reds is a film that is worth seeing, I merely wish it hadn’t tied itself down with such a woefully inept love story.




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