Reds (1981)

Reds (1981) movie poster

director Warren Beatty
viewed: 07/14/2016

Epic is as epic does.

Reds is well-likely Warren Beatty’s most personal magnum opus.  Perhaps if Reds had gotten more love, he might have made more films as director than he has.

It’s been said that “Everybody wants to be a director!” probably going back to the time before cinema itself.  But Beatty made Reds before actors-turned-directors really won kudos and Oscars.  It lost out Best Picture to Chariots of Fire (1981) which I’ve never seen and at present, I doubt I’ll ever see.  That said, Raiders of the Lost Ark also lost out to Chariots of Fire that year.  But the Oscars have never been kind to actually great films.

Is Reds a great film?  It certainly strives for it.  Beatty gives it his dedicated all, with great cinematography by Vittorio Storaro, music by Stephen Sondheim and Dave Grusin, a fine script by Beatty and Trevor Griffiths, and a cast that included Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Maureen Stapleton (who did garner an Oscar), Gene Hackman, Paul Sorvino, Jerzy Kosinski, and scads of others (this is an epic, after all).

And truly, it’s a story of true merit, based on the lives of John Reed, journalist and socialist who wrote “Ten Days that Shook the World” and his lover and fellow journalist Louise Bryant.  Set in the heady days of WWI and leading up the the Russian revolution, it’s a radical picture for Hollywood perhaps of any era, what with the Communists as the good guys, when only a couple decades ago many were blacklisted for even tenuous associations.

What truly elevates the film, though, is the innovation that Beatty achieves by interviewing “Witnesses”, the real actual people who knew either Reed and/or Bryant.  These people appear as elderly talking heads against a black background, giving varying degrees of context, at first almost seeming nonsequiturs, but ultimately adding verity and reality to the fictional sprawl of the epic tale with a connection to the document.  Tremendously innovative, it lifts the film, from the good to possibly great.


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