Monday, July 8, 2013


In the Western world, particularly in American society, the idea of socialism can send people into panic mode. We've come to think of it as such a foreign, evil concept that we sometimes forget that there was actually a sizable socialist movement happening in the USA during the early 1900s. Well, that's the subject of Warren Beatty's sweeping epic "Reds".
I'm not as well versed in my world history as I should be, so I relish films like these that seek to inform while they entertain. This film certainly pulls off both of those goals as it is truly fascinating. It tells the story of a pair of writers (played by Diane Keaton and Warren Beatty) as they engage in a romance while participating in the 1917 Russian revolution and the concurrent activism in the United States. These are real life people and the film uses a useful tool to reflect that. Specifically, there are scattered interviews throughout that give some insights from persons who lived during the era and it turns out to be one of the strongest elements of the film. It adds valuable historical context of the events in addition to a strong sense of the time, place and people.
That last element (people) is really what's it's all about. Socialism is about fulfilling the needs of all of society's people equally. For the Bolsheviks, it was about overthrowing the aristocracy and giving power to the working class. Similarly, their American counterparts were rallying against capitalism. The film's protagonists are proponents of this philosophy and they give a really interesting point of view. They both initially came from comfortable lifestyles based on the capitalist economic model, but somehow they got captivated by the idealism of the socialist cause. As we learn of their experiences, it's easy to see what drew Beatty to these individuals' stories in the first place (John Reed and Louise Bryant). They are such rich, interesting characters and they are amplified by the talented actors playing them.
The acting quality proves to be very important as its such a long film (3 hours and 15 minutes) that it threatens to lose the audience at various points. Fortunately, Diane Keaton, Warren Beatty and the supporting cast are all in top form in this film. I need to single out Diane Keaton in particular as she completely carries the film. She's so unassuming yet absolutely engaging for every minute she's on screen. Louise Bryant is a smart, complex woman and you really get that feeling just by looking at her eyes. Her romantic interests Beatty and Jack Nicholson are solid too, with Nicholson particularly showing a different side to his now famous persona. He's never been so sauve. I must admit, it's curious to see Maureen Stapleton as the Oscar winner from this cast, but she's good in her minor role.
Apart from the acting, there's a fine screenplay at work which allowed these actors to flourish. It's just a well-made film overall, fully deserving of all its Oscar nominations. The win for cinematography is especially nice to see as there are some tracking shots in the film's final act that literally made my jaw drop.
"Reds" has all the makings of a great film and it largely succeeds. I will say though, I wanted to see more of the actual events of the Russian revolution but I guess there are other films like "Doctor Zhivago" for that. It keeps its focus on specific people and that's admirable. In fact, the film turns out to be an epic that isn't really that epic at all (in terms of visual grandeur and narrative sensationalism). As a result, you may find your patience tested throughout but trust me, it's worth it.


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