Take a Drink: whenever Jack voices an unpopular opinion
Take a Drink: whenever Louise does something defiantly independent
Take a Drink: “What as?”
Take a Drink: for arguments
Take a Drink: for A capella singing
Take a Drink: whenever Eugene O’Neil does
Do a Shot: for disillusionment
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
I live in Russia, so I’ve been to Red Square several times, but it wasn’t until my final visit that I was able to visit one of its most famous features- Lenin’s Bomb. Before you enter the dark crypt where his century-old body perpetually lies, you pass a range of graves of Soviet leaders and heroes, built right into the Kremlin wall. One plaque, written in Latin instead of Cyrillic letters, is not like the others- John Reed.
Also Liberace’s, but Russia’s not so proud of that lately.
John Reed is the only foreigner buried in the Kremlin, and Warren Beatty’s Reds tells much of the story how. In it we see the firebrand American journalist (Beatty) meet his match in the free-spirited Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) and became more and more involved in the American Communist movement, which would eventually land him a front-stage seat to the Bolshevik Revolution, making his career (he wrote Ten Days that Shook the World) and sewing the seeds of his demise.
Reds documents a fascinating era in history before “Communism” was a dirty word, prosecuting a firsthand viewpoint of a time when it sounded like a legitimate hope for many. Beatty, who also directed the film, does more than dramatize this, though. He lets the principals speak for themselves, periodically breaking the action for commentary from his Witnesses, a host of people who knew this time and John and Louise personally. It’s a fascinating technique, blurring the lines between documentary and fiction and engaging with history in a palpable way.
Henry Miller shows up, because hell yes.
This is Warren Beatty’s magnum opus, which is ably demonstrated in the romantic and historical epic that is the main body of the film. He starts things small, focusing on John and Louise’s growing romance and love triangle with playwright Eugene O’Neill, with the politics more of a background element. Jack Nicholson plays O’Neill, and delivers a memorable turn as the liquor-soused, passionate, but bitter romantic, and Maureen Stapleton shows up as an acid-tongued but observant activist, Emma Goldman, taking home the only Oscar of the group of Keaton, Beatty, Nicholson, and her, the last cast to get nominations in all four Oscar acting categories until Silver Linings Playbook.
The second half of the film keeps focus on this central relationship, but opens up the environment as they, particularly Reed, became embroiled in Communist activities at home and abroad. Here we see Reed go from journalist to frontlines activist, only to see his ideals swallowed by political infighting and power struggles. The final act is contemplative and heartbreaking, bringing together the micro of these two people’s love and the macro of world events that it’s swept up in. It’s epic in every sense of the world.
After all, that’s Jack Nicholson’s middle name.
The romance between John and Louise is the backbone of the film, but it feels like a bit too much time was devoted to it. This movie checks in at 194 minutes, and almost an entire feature length film goes by before they bow to their feelings and get married.
This is Warren Beatty’s masterpiece, top to bottom. If only more historical dramas with Oscar pretensions would take a page from its playbook.