Reds (1981)

Dir. Warren Beatty
Starring: Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, etc.

A long film–3+ hours–that did a good job of keeping my interest. A big reason is the performances of Beatty and Keaton, imo. I think Penny and Grace would like this film.

The film is based on real people, Jack Reed (Beatty) and Louise Bryant (Keaton) and their relationship and involvement in the Bolshevik Revolution in 1918(?). The tagline states that, “Not since Gone With The Wind has there been a great romantic epic like it!” and there are similarities: the epic quality, the historical connection and strong male and female leads. (I don’t think it’s as good as GWTW, though.) But the tagline is not correct: Dr. Zhivago came after GWTW (although I prefer Reds to Dr. Zhivago). A very good, if not great, epic romance. So if you’re interested in seeing great romance films, I recommend this. (Larri got into this, although I sense she didn’t totally love it.)

Beatty co-wrote, produced, directed and starred in this. Beatty used clips of interviews with actual people who knew the principle characters, similar in format to what Rob Reiner does in When Harry Met Sally (although those people were actors). These scenes don’t work very well because the excerpts don’t seamlessly connect with the scenes preceding or following them. That was my impression anyway. Also, in the earlier part of the film, there’s a lot of jumping through time that created a disjointed feeling, and preventing firm grounding of the characters and the story.

What stands out though are the performances. First, Diane Keaton. She puts in a performance up there with her acting in Annie Hall and Something’s Gotta Give. I don’t think she won the Oscar but she deserved a nomination at least. Watching her in this made me think that I haven’t really appreciated her abilities enough. What I really liked was the way her face was a canvas of emotions; so much came through her expressions. Beatty was also very good in this. His love and generosity with her was touching and, more importantly, believable. (They might have been actually dating at the time.) These characters and their relationship really make the film worth watching. In some ways, I thought of the relationship between Redford and Streep’s characters in Out of Africa. (I liked Out of Africa more.)

These characters and their relationship overshadow the historical aspects of the storyline and the story of Reed and Bryant don’t always mesh well with the historical events. However, I did like the way we see the disillusionment of Reed, Bryant and their friends about the way the Revolution turns out. I did really love the scene and “speech” that Reed delivers in the train–about the belief that you can be an individual and responsible part of the collective (society)–indeed, he argues you can’t strip away what an individual loves, otherwise you strip away dissent, which is the necessary for revolution. Boom! I loved the literal explosion that punctuated that scene.

I wonder if there is dispute about the political position of the film. To me, I took it as clearly anti-communist, but I know that Beatty is politically on the Left. Of course, Leftists and Communists are not the same thing, but I think some of the criticisms of the naive idealism of these American Leftist characters could also be seen as a critique on the political Left of the late 20th. The “free” independent love is portrayed as untenable; the failure of the Communist state at producing economic equality and preserving individual rights–all of these things seem like a critique on the 60s counter-culture/Left.

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