REDS is a long, interesting film from Warren Beatty that brings passion, perspective and an epic scale to an unusual subject.
Beatty plays radical American journalist John Reed who becomes so enamored of the communist movement in Russia that it consumes every part of his life.
It's hard to imagine that Beatty had the drive and power to deliver this film in the heart of the Reagan era, basically glorifying a communist leaning journalist. But as I watched it again in 2014, the story is much more balanced than I remembered in its portrayal of the failures of communism.
Beatty creates a brilliant structure for the film in which actual interviews with people that are portrayed in REDS, or friends of the people depicted in the film talk about the real events and real people in the three hour plus film.
As Reed (Beatty) interacts with historical folks like Eugene O'Neill (the powerful Jack Nicholson) the radical Emma Goldman (Maureen Stapleton) or Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) you feel like you actually get to know them thanks to the eye witnesses.
It's fascinating to see some of the most passionate communists conveying to Reed (Beatty) that in its essence, Communism is a wonderful theory but why, in reality, it can never truly work.
In the eighties, I felt REDS was glorifying communism, but in reality its a documentary of a journalist caught up in a revolution that sweeps him, his relationships and his core to the brink along with the mobs of angry, hungry humanity.
As a director, Beatty creates the entire film on a grand scale with some sweeping David Lean style scenes of he and Keaton lost in the masses.
The last third of the film detailing Keaton's long efforts to reconnect with Beatty (Reed) after he is thrown into a Russian prison is overlong and repetitive and drags the overall pace down to a crawl.
However, Beatty's devotion to telling the story on an epic stage is admirable and the fact that John Reed is the only US Citizen to this day buried in the Kremlin shows his place in history. Beneath all the politics, its a powerful love story between Reed and Bryant.
It's a smart, impressive film with great photography, strong acting and a challenging subject. Definitely worth a watch when you are in the mood for a Doctor Zhivago/Lawrence of Arabia epic with a decidedly less appealing central character. We'll paint it with a bright red B.