Saturday, December 16, 2006
Reds (1981) ****
The two films most often compared to Reds are Chariots of Fire and Gone With the Wind, for obvious enough reasons. I think I can safely say Reds is solidly, infinetely superior to both. Are there flaws? Yes. Do they affect the film? No. Was I crying at the end? Yes. Do I normally cry at the end of films? Almost never.
Beatty's decidedly old fashioned tale of doomed love just doesn't seem like the 80's. Perhaps because it was the last film to have an intermission, or perhaps just the perfect atmosphere of the period which is captured. In most modern period pieces the films always never really take you there, and we never really feel like we're in 17th century whatever. Reds makes us feel like we have lived the lives of its protagonists, the way it sifts through their lives and never pauses too long on the ups and never seems short enough on the downs. Life, it seems, moves too quickly, for us and them.
Featuring a variety of fantastic supporting performances including Jack Nicholson as Eugene O'Neil, Maureen Stapleton as legendary anarchist/feminist Emma Goldman, Edward Herrman, Jerzy Kosinsky, and Paul Sorvino, Reds takes us from conversation to conversation at in the transition from the 1910's to the 20's. The country's leading socialist, communist, anarchist, and feminist intellectuals converge in small apartments and beachouses, laugh, drink, trade women, and organize I.W.W. meeting and opposition to the war. John Reed (Beatty) is a journalist who starts living with a writer, Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton, absolutely gorgeous...) who feels he pays more attention to his politics than his personal life.
Indeed, Reed doesn't seem very good at balancing politics and art, the world's problems and his problems, his public and personal life. He only seems to realize this in the film when it's too late.
On the technical aspect, the film features a very witty screenplay (Emma Goldman, who is wisely not overused, gets all the best lines and steals all her scenes) and wonderful cinematography by legendary Italian DOP Vitorrio Storatio, who uses still, mostly undramatic shots to suggest a 19th century painting.
The turning point in this film is the Bolshevik revolution, and we can feel the ecstacy of the characters - finally, it's really happening, even as we dread what comes next, as it becomes painfully clear to them Russia will not be the dream country of neighborly socialism they had imagined. Emma Goldman, who has been deported to Russia because of her political activism (yes, they could do that back then) realizes it first. We think Reed will never be able to accept it - he's just been fighting too hard for it - but it appears towards the last scene he does, when he breaks down in front of his Russian superiors: "You suppresed dissent, and when you killed dissent, you killed the revolution!"
Let's talk of Diane Keaton, who has never seemed more achingly beautiful. Her performance is incredible. Through the first third she pretends to not be attached to men, but she keeps coming back to John Reed. She speaks so much without speaking, and watching her become a quiet, subservient housewife in the scenes following the intermission is more than we can bear. She regains her spirit when her husband is imprisoned in Finland and stowaways to Europe, travelling hundreds of miles on foot, much of it through snowy, unhospitable terrain. Because fate is cruel, Beatty has been rebought into heavily guarded Russia by the time she gets there. And when she gets into Russia, he is away on a trip to the Middle East. And of course his train will be attacked on the wey back.
The choice made by director, writer, producer and star Warren Beatty that makes this film incredible is to intersperse the scenes with interviews with real life people who knew John Reed. Their testimony goes clearly against one another and occaisonally against common sense - one woman with a blue hat insists: not a soul was against the war! Not one! Instead of seeming to interrupt the movie, the interviews flow together with the film, and they seem to narrate the story. And they further enhance the feeling these are real people, and not just that, people we have met and shared so much time with. Didn't we have a great time?
The final scene is devastating, especially with the use of a speechless small child - you will see what I mean. Ah, but what a romantic movie this is! Tragedy is what truly seems to bring couples together - even more so then comedy. It applies to the audience and the characters. It's too much to watch poor Louise weeping over her husbands body in the final shot. It's too much...