I didn’t go into this movie with a very good attitude. I’m not a big Warren Beatty fan. I’m not sure why; he’s not a terrible actor. He just rubs me the wrong way, I guess. Maybe it has something to do with “You’re So Vain”. So I was already not looking forward to watching Reds because of Warren Beatty, and then I saw what the tagline was: “Not since Gone with the Wind has there been a great romantic epic like it!” That lowered my opinion of the movie even more. If a critic had compared it to Gone with the Wind, that would be one thing, but for people to say that about their own movie is silly. It makes filmmakers sound full of themselves, and it really lowered my expectations. But maybe the lowered expectations helped. Maybe I was able to enjoy Reds as much as I did only because it was better than I was expecting it to be.
So what’s the story? Louise Bryant is an outwardly respectable married woman living in Portland. She dreams of being a writer. She meets Jack Reed, a progressive journalist from the East and abandons her husband to go to New York with Jack. She meets his crowd of socialists and anarchists and is drawn in to their society as Jack travels the country agitating for socialism. Eventually the two travel to Russia and become involved in the Revolution.
The Good: Costume design! Yay! After watching many movies that couldn’t figure out how to do historical costuming, this was a nice change.
The supporting cast was very good. The standouts were Maureen Stapleton as activist and anarchist Emma Goldman and Jack Nicholson (whom I didn’t recognize behind the hair and the mustache) as playwright Eugene O’Neill. Each of them basically stole every scene they were in, and I wish they had both had a bigger part in the movie.
The Bad: I didn’t care for either Diane Keaton or Warren Beatty, which is bad since they play the main characters. Louise Bryant was supposedly this fascinating woman who attracted all kinds of men, but honestly, she was kind of bland. Yes, she got mad that her work wasn’t as good as Jack’s, but until that point and for a long while afterwards, she didn’t show much emotion. In fact, exasperation and anger with Jack were her two dominant emotions in the movie. Also, tiny annoyance, but her eye makeup was distractingly bad. Warren Beatty had a couple of good moments (the scene where Emma and Jack are arguing about the direction of the Revolution was fabulous), but there were not enough good moments to carry the movie.
This movie features elderly men and women who reminisce about Jack Reed and Louise Bryant and the times that Reds covers. While it was interesting to hear what they had to say, it really broke up the movie. The story would stop while the old people (“The Witnesses”) talked to the camera. The movie became half talking heads documentary, half biopic. While it was different and creative and probably why Warren Beatty won best director, it was distracting. Once or twice the words that The Witnesses were saying contradicted the story that was being told, which was jarring. And since there was a screenplay, it made me wonder whether what The Witnesses was saying was scripted. I felt like Beatty should have either made a documentary about Reed or just made Reds without The Witnesses. I really didn’t like it.
The Ugly: When your leads aren’t good and your story could be compelling but is too choppy due to interruptions from old people, a three hour movie doesn’t work. I got so very bored. I didn’t really care what happened to Jack and Louise. I thought that Louise was selfish and angry because she wasn’t as talented as Jack, and Jack was selfish and distracted because he was so talented, but I didn’t care about them. Gone with the Wind is forty-five minutes longer than Reds, but it flies by because the characters are so alive and compelling. You have to know what happens to them. Reds didn’t do that for me. I would have enjoyed a good documentary about Jack and Louise and their crazy New York group much more than this odd, indecisive, way-too-long movie.
Oscars Won: Best actress in a supporting role (Maureen Stapleton); best director; best cinematography.
Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actress in a leading role (Diane Keaton); best actor in a leading role (Warren Beatty); best actor in a supporting role (Jack Nicholson); best writing, screenplay written directly for the screen; best art direction-set direction; best costume design; best sound; best film editing.