Reds (1981)

reds poster 1981 movie
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Solid looking drama with a great cast

Long, some background is beneficial

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Reds

Studio:  Barclays Mercantile Industrial Fiance/JRS Productions

Genre(s):  Drama

Release Date(s):  December 3, 1981 (Premiere)/December 25, 1981 (US)

MPAA Rating:  PG

reds socialist john reed louise bryant diane keaton warren beatty

An open relationship between two headstrong people…this will work out great

Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) leaves her dull life in Portland, Oregon when she meets journalist John Reed (Warren Beatty).  Reed and his friends desperately want to stay out of the War and sees the only chance for society as the unionization of business and the Communist message.  As their relationship fractures and strains, Reed becomes more involved in the fight and finds himself working with the Russians to bring about change as Louise comes into her own fame as a writer…change is inevitable, but it might not be the change Reed is seeking.

Written and directed by Warren Beatty (with additional scripting by Trevor Griffiths), Reds is a biographical historic movie.  The film is based on the lives of John Reed (October 22, 1887-October 17, 1920) and Louise Bryant (December 5, 1885-January 6, 1936) and faced pushback from the studios over the subject matter during the Cold War.  The film was released to critical acclaim and won Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Maureen Stapleton), and Best Cinematography with nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Warren Beatty), Best Actress (Diane Keaton), Best Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, and Best Film Editing.

reds warren beatty john reed socialist

Yelling…lots of yelling

Despite all the critical acclaim, Reds is a scary movie to approach.  At a runtime of over three hours and a subject I know little about, the film is intimidating…but its stylized approach, great cast, and compelling story does make the three hours go by a bit faster.

It would be good to go into the movie with a little bit of information on the October Revolution and the Bolsheviks along with the Socialist movement in America at the time.  As someone not very versed in it, it was sometimes difficult to follow Reed’s alliances and how they were playing out.  It wasn’t detrimental for understanding the story which is largely the story of Reed and Bryant and their attempts to forge a working relationship that circled around their writings, but some knowledge would enrich it.

The cast is great.  Beatty didn’t intend to play the lead but ended up taking the role after casting issues.  Diane Keaton continues to prove herself one of the most versatile actors of the time by being able to bounce back and forth between dramas and comedies.  Maureen Stapleton gives some of the more poignant speeches in her relatively small role, and Jack Nicholson is nice in that he isn’t playing his normal “Jack” character.  The film features roles by Paul Sorvino, William Daniels, M. Emmet Walsh, Bessie Love, Max Wright, George Plimpton, Dolph Sweet, Ian Wolf, R. G. Armstrong, Edward Hermann, and Gene Hackman among others.

reds warren beatty diane keaton russia john reed louise bryant

It’s all fun and games overthrowing governments until someone gets typhus

The movie looks great and big, but there is also a strange approach to the storytelling.  Much of the movie has voice overs and interviews with people who were associates of Reed and Bryant or were involved directly in the events.  It provides insight, but it also shows that no one knows exactly what happened between people except those people.  The people (called The Witnesses) often directly contradicted each other.

Reds still feels pretty modern despite being made in 1981.  Since the film is a period piece and the story is filled with a big event that changed the world forever, the movie still has a style and message that resonates.  It is long.  It is a lot of Russian history.  It has a ton of characters.  These all could contribute to not seeing it, but making an effort is a worth the commitment…it might even be a picture you have to see more than once.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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