Reds (1981)

Directed by Warren Beatty
Written by Warren Beatty & Trevor Griffiths

Anytime I sit down for an “epic”, I feel like it will be a daunting task. I usually like to watch movies in a single sitting, or at least in the same days time, which makes the idea of a 3 hour film intimidating. This mentality has undoubtedly kept me away from some great films before. I know for a fact that I avoided Lawrence of Arabia for so very long before finally succumbing not only to its 216 minutes, but also to its greatness. Reds has been one of those almost “second tier” epics, however. It rarely gets mentioned nowadays when the great epics are discussed, even though it was nominated for a slew of Oscars in 1982, earning Warren Beatty the directing award. Because of this I have always felt the obligation to see the film, but I just never had the sensation or the push to try and seek it out, runtime being just one of the deterrents.

Another deterrent is Diane Keaton, who, for whatever reason, is that actress for me. You know the one. You probably have one or two out there too. She is just a constant annoyance to me. Whether it be because I am too young to appreciate her during her prime and my opinion has been muddled by the cheesefest of the last decade (re: the embarrassment that was Mad Money). She is fine in The Godfather series, but I just can’t stand her aw shucks personality, which is probably why I liked her in Annie Hall, because that was perfect for that character. But any time she surfaces in a film for me, a red flag gets raised. And to be honest, I did not like her performance her either, which was a combination of overacting in some moments, and being handed a character that I question whether the greatest of actors could have made sympathetic. Her Louise Bryant just exists to be a drag. She has no direction in her life, though claims she is a writer, but of what? She has no opinions, no ambitions, no nothing, except the need to be wanted I suppose. Ugh.

Finally when she does have the need met by Jack Reed (Warren Beatty), she has the need for more and complains about his abcenses. At least Beatty is good in his role. But even Reed is a bit of a conundrum for a few reasons. He calls himself a journalist which is a bit offensive to journalists. The moment he gets up to talk in Russia I was lot on his character. A journalist observes the world and reports what he sees. He does not join in on the happenings, does not include his own feelings and opinions. That is called a writer. A minor qualm perhaps, but I have a strong feeling of affection for the true art of journalism, which is dying a slow death from the invasion of the opinion into the informational column. It then becomes hard to ever make a true connection of gain meaningful interest in the film when I have a dislike of both of its lead characters. I could care less about whether they loved each other, or how their unorthodox marriage would work out or not. I was completely unaffected the status of the characters at any given time in the film.

Beatty makes a well constructed film here however, that I can appreciate. The technical aspects of the film are impressive, and it is never an easy thing to do to put together such a huge and sprawling story. So hats off to the production team for that, but technical greatness only goes so far in my book. And on top of that, I must admit that the pseudo-documentary style did not work for me. Beatty will cut from the film to talking heads, real life people who witnesses the events and people being chronicled in the story. Not only did this take me out of the film far too often, but it also might give the wrong impression that this film is fact and not fiction. As historically accurate as the film may be, it is a dramatization. The documentary style did not work for me either. Jack Nicholson, as playwright Eugene O’Neill, however, was someone I could get behind. Not only is he a true artist, one who believes in romance, but he isn’t a fraud like the other two appear to be. And Nicholson is remarkably efficient in a toned down role for his bombastic reputation. I just wish he could have been more involved in the film.

Ultimately way too many issues, but at least there were a few things I was able to take away from the film. And despite the many complaints I have put forth in this review, those few good things were enough for me to at least claim this was not a complete waste of 3 hours out of my day.

*** – Good

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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