Up to this very day, Reds continues to divide critics and audiences, with the supporters claiming is Warren Beatty’s best film to date and one of the finest epics ever made, and its detractors slamming it as a preachy, self-indulgent, overlong, and excessive film about an AMERICAN COMMUNIST! I couldn’t actually see why the mere fact that this film is about an American communist would be enough to bash this film (Making a film about Saddam Hussein wouldn’t?). At any rate, I simply loved this film the moment I saw it. It’s a very engrossing film, filled with superb performance, impressive photography, and strong direction. This film would pretty much be the perfect companion to Doctor Zhivago if you’re interested in the Russian Revolution. It’s really that good if you actually can dig it.Reds is the story of John Reed, American communist (BOOYAH!), journalist, and activist whom wrote for Max Eastman’s (Edward Herrman) left-wing magazine The Masses. During his early days around 1915 when WWI was in full swing, he met and fell in love after an interview with Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) whom is an independent journalist, photographer and feminist. The relationship lasts throughout the film, despite bitter fights and disloyalties, with the most notable being Louise’s affair with renowned playwright Eugene O’Neill (Jack Nicholson) whom also happens to be friends with Reed and his bunch of left-wing supporters, amongst them renowned anarchist and feminist Emma Goldman (Maureen Stapleton). During this time in 1917, after the US enters into WWI, much to Reed’s disappointment, the Russian Revolution suddenly occurs and Reed, along with Bryant manage to witness it first-hand and is the basis for Reed’s book 10 Days That Shook The World. After that Reed becomes a full-blown political activist trying to build a communist party in America, and travels illegally to Moscow during the beginnings of the Red Scare in America to gain recognition for his party from the politburo and one of its leaders Grigory Zinoviev (Jerzy Kosinski), but after several attempts, his health deteriorating (he lost a kidney earlier), and the impossibility of returning to the States due to white armies surrounding the recently born USSR, Reed becomes disillusioned with communism. During all this, Louise goes to great lengths to travel to Russia and be with her husband during this time of troubles.
"Monumental achievements don’t get this edgier anymore"
I give credit to what Warren Beatty said in an earlier interview, that he was lucky to have made this film during that time he made it, because today he would’ve never been able to make it. This was simply a huge project of incredible proportions. It’s pretty much a miracle that this film was actually made, and even released, since this film isn’t necessarily a commercial film, and doesn’t fall into the agendas of several studios. Ah, how we long for the long lost “auteur” days. And even then Beatty faced huge criticism due to the fact that he was making a film about a COMMUNIST whom was actually buried in the Kremlin Wall, at the time when US was Reagan-dominated and the Cold War was still as prevalent as ever. If that’s not having balls, I don’t know what that is.
Anyways, into the cinematic angle, this film is magnificent. The first thing (and the most obvious) that impresses about this film is “the witnesses,” several people from that time (amongst them Henry Miller, Rebecca West, and even George Jessel) giving their accounts of that whole period of time, whether it was about Reed or Bryant, The Russian revolution, or what was happening in America at that time. The use of these eyewitness accounts gives the film a sort of a “documentary” feel to the film (despite certain inaccuracies) and an authenticity that is unique. Such a technique is rarely seen in film, at least from my experience. The screenplay, written by Beatty and Trevor Griffiths is almost impeccable, and though at times it can be heavy handed and filled with lots of dialogue, it’s very well written and intelligent. For the historians though, they can always find their share of inaccuracies (expected), oversimplification of events (How to condense an entire year-long event into 20 minutes?), and certain liberties of cinematic license (like nobody has never done it before). The heavy handedness of the script though is countered by Beatty’s solid direction and Vittorio Storaro’s splendid cinematography, giving the film an authentic period feel and also a very gritty look at how those times were back in the day. The film’s blend of political activeness and passionate romance is very well executed though at times the romance can be too glossy. And surely there are times where the pace seems to slow down and the film can show certain self-indulgence, it all depends on how you take the good and the bad and how it clouds your enjoyment of this film. If you ask me, the qualities of this film outweigh its flaws and though it somewhat falls short of epic status, it’s quite a remarkable and very impressive achievement. Kudos for Beatty, and yes, I think it’s the best film he’s done so far, his Oscar for Directing is well-deserved.
The acting is superb. Beatty and Diane Keaton as both Reed and Bryant are at their very best with very solid performances from each (the argument scenes kick ass). Maureen Stapleton is also tailor-fit for the role of Emma Goldman and plays it to perfection, her Oscar is also well-deserved. But, the BEST of them all and the guy that NEARLY steals the show altogether is Jack Nicholson as the bitter and cynical Eugene O’Neill. I mean this guy deserved an Oscar for his performance here, John Gieglund didn’t have shit on him (and yes, I’ve seen Arthur). He has the best lines of the film, and his sly grin and low but somber voice is just priceless here, and could almost easily be the highlight of the film. For me, it’s THE finest performance I’ve seen from Nicholson so far, and I seriously doubt he’ll ever top this one (and I’ve seen several of his films, including Terms of Endearment and As Good as it Gets). The rest of the cast are also great and watch for Gene Hackman in a cameo as a left-wing editor.In the end, this film is up for grabs on whether you love it or hate it, but regardless, it’s a towering achievement in Beatty’s career and too bad that the “overpraisedness” of the film (which if you ask me wasn’t as much as they say) made this film today be criminally underrated and almost forgotten. Gosh 200 minutes haven’t gone that fast since… well, Lord of the Rings, it’s really a very well made film, and I hope those Paramount bastards haul ass in the DVD release which I patiently but desperately await. WHERE’S THE DVD, YOU BASTARDS? 4.5-5.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=6509&reviewer=235
originally posted: 01/06/04 06:55:56