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REDS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Paul Sorvino, Maureen Stapleton, Jerzy Kosinski
Director: Warren Beatty
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Mono, French Dolby Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 195 Minutes
Release Date: October 10, 2006

“Mr. Reed, what do you think this war is about?”

“PROFITS.”

Film ***1/2

All that I had known about Reds in the 25 years since its release was that it was a really long film that garnered a large amount of critical acclaim and Oscar attention. I knew that it was a dream project of Warren Beatty, who won the Oscar for Best Director. However, I had no knowledge of what the film was actually about. Forgive my ignorance.

Much to my surprise, Reds covers what a lot would consider to be “controversial” material, especially in this day and age. It is very much the first film that I’ve seen at least to be told from the point of view of a member of the Communist party. I’ve never considered myself a very political person, so therefore I was able to open myself to the controversial political themes of the film. And I’m glad I did as a result.

Reds documents in glorious detail the life of writer and activist John Reed (Beatty), perhaps one of the most popular individuals associated with the Communist party. Reed is seen as a man who never backs down when it comes to expressing his opinion on various issues. He was actually one of those people who thought they had the conviction to help change the world.

Both Reed’s professional and personal life are documented to amazing detail in the film. The first section deals mostly with his meeting and eventual wooing of feminist writer Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton). They do become a couple, but the relationship isn’t free of troubles. Louise, who is keen on human compassion, at times can’t seem to understand what drives a political machine such as Reed.

When their relationship hits a bump in the road, Louise ventures off to Greenwich Village for a fling with one of Reed’s closest friends, playwright Eugene O’Neill (Jack Nicholson). It’s a fling that doesn’t last for long, though, as Louise can’t deny her love for the raging political machine she should despise.

A great deal of the story unfolds amidst the 1917 Russian Revolution, a time when the Communists had seized power. One of the more intriguing plot elements is Reed becoming embroiled in battles between factions of the Socialist Party and the New American Communist Party. I don’t care which side of the political fence you stand on, this should be respected for capturing a moment in history that “did” in fact happen.

And Beatty has definitely made a searing epic with this film. The level of authenticity is illustrated even greater by the use of interview segments with real life witnesses to the events depicted in the film. Beatty’s decision to incorporate those voices into his film is a stroke of genius, I think. If anything, it adds to his credibility as a storyteller as well.

Looking back, it’s fascinating to note that though a film like this would probably be a controversial project of Fahrenheit 9/11 proportions in today’s climate, it was made without a hint of heat by Paramount, who at that point was run by the oil company Gulf Western. How intriguing indeed? But had such a popular and smart cinematic auteur like Beatty not been the one driving the project, the film would’ve most likely never gotten off the ground. It’s important to note that Beatty’s prior successful film Heaven Can Wait, played a big part in helping Reds see the light of day.

For a film that is essentially one of the most controversial political films ever made, Reds should be seen as more than that. It’s a wonderful character study as well as a moving love story. And Beatty’s filmmaking is something to be marveled by. It really defines the term epic, which is a title this film has received most deservingly.

Video ****

Paramount has done a very splendid job with restoring this 25 year old film with an incredible picture quality. The incredible location shots and grand cinematography of Vittorio Storaro are brought to astonishing life. Watching it in this format, you’d swear that it was a film made recently rather than 1981, it’s that grand of a video quality. Tremendous job all around.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix is serviced extremely well. Though dialogue is the main attraction here, there are several sequences involving musical anthems and war that play off incredibly well. Stephen Sondheim’s score is heard in tremendous form. Well handled all the way!

Features ***1/2

This 2-Disc Anniversary release packs quite a lot of behind the scenes material. Beatty himself states in the opening of the interviews that he tends not to get too involved in the DVD extras, but he’s come around on this one for some wonderful retrospective and very insightful interviews.

The feature is divided between discs one and two, while Disc Two includes the bonus goods. Featured on Disc Two is a segmented documentary titled “Witness to Reds”, which may just be the best behind the scenes documentary I’ve seen on any DVD this year. The segments included are “The Rising”, “Comrades”
“Testimonials”, “Revolution - Part 1”, “Revolution - Part 2”, “The March” and “Propaganda”.

Also included on Disc One is a new DVD Trailer for the film.

Summary:

Reds is a politically driven film but also an exceptional piece of filmmaking courtesy of Warren Beatty. It’s definitely an epic and the long awaited debut on DVD is an incredible one indeed!

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