Sunday, September 23, 2007


Reds; Drama, USA, 1981; D: Warren Beatty, S: Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Edward Herrmann, Anthony Forrest, Paul Sorvino, Jack Nicholson, Jerzy Kosinski, Maureen Stapleton, M. Emmet Walsh, Gene Hackman, Bessie Love

Portland, World War I. Louise Bryant, a married journalist, goes to a liberal club where she is intrigued when she hears radical leftist journalist John Reed flat out says the war is fought just for profit. She interviews him and the next time they meet they start a relationship. They move to New York and then to Provincetown, where Louise has an affair with playwright Eugene O'Neill, but quickly returns to John. They separate and reconcile again, traveling together in a train to Petrograd. John is so fascinated by the October Revolution, he starts his own Communist party in the US, but it divides into two opposing parties. To get the support, he travels to Moscow, but gets captured on Finish territory when returning back home. He is freed and goes back to Moscow. After counterrevolutionaries attack the Communist train, John is injured and dies in a hospital.

Warren Beatty's personal film "Reds" got a substantial critical acclaim and won 3 Oscars (best director, supporting actress Maureen Stapleton, cinematography), 2 BAFTAs (supporting actor Jack Nicholson, supporting actress M. Stapleton) and one Golden Globe (best director), yet with time it became sadly forgotten and obscure: many moviegoers don't even know it exists. Looking at it today, it still seems like one of the most thematically unusual films coming from the US: it flat out depicts the biography of journalist John Reed who adored Communism and hated Capitalism. If anything, one would think such a liberal film depicting a Communist glorifier would come from Soviet Union, never from USA. Yet, despite the fact that Beatty is himself leftist, he made a difficult progression to make the movie politically neutral: the story is never pro one or other side, but maturely and objectively questions both left-wing and right-wing living worlds, depicting Reed as a man who was always for Socialism and Communism, even though at the end it is shown he refuses to admit he is disappointed at both (Emma Goldman flat out says to him in after Revolution Moscow: "4 million people died last year because the system simply doesn't work"). As some have noticed, this is a movie for grown ups: it demands attention, devotion, patience and time to analyze it.

As a whole, it's a rarely seen, controversial, but semi-great film. It depicts dry themes few people tend to think about, but Beatty crammed to much stuff into it (revolution, romance, oppression, corrupt revolutionaries, personal struggle...) which in the end makes the film slightly chaotic and heavily edited. That it especially noticeable when Louise interviews John for the first time: he frankly gives his own view on World War I, telling that "Britain and France control the world economy, and Germans only joined the war to get a piece of it", but his words during their talk that lasted the whole night were shortened and in the end last less than a minute. Nicholson is surprisingly tame and melancholic as Eugene O'Neill, but his performance is simply too sparse to justify such awards: he has only about 5 minutes of screen time in a 3 hour film, appearing only near the start and near the finish. The film is filled with bizarre moments: when Louise is arguing with John because he wants to take her with him to New York, she asks: "As what? As what should I go? As your lover, your wife, your mistress...", and he replies with: "Well, it's almost Thanksgiving. You could go as a turkey". After John urinates blood in a prison toilet, a man says: "This man even pisses red". And the scene where Communist train is traveling to Baku while Bedouins on camels are cheering them, is one of the most surreal images of the '80s. It's definitely a quality made film, but the shaky finale is trying to copy "Dr. Zhivago" too obviously, and a little more color would have made this ambitious movie a better experience.


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