Sunday, November 12, 2006



Dir: Warren Beatty (Heaven Can Wait; Dick Tracy; Bulworth)

Beatty channels Pasternak in this Zhivago-esque romantic epic about communist agitators in WWI America. Warren has as much to say about politics as the story itself, and at times the film theatens to teeter over into vanity or hero worship. But the ambition of the project and the sincerity of the writing and acting make Reds well worth watching, a movie definitely interested in being important and almost getting there.

Beatty (who also co-wrote the script) is John Reed, the leftist journalist whose chroncile of the Russian Revolution "Ten Days That Shook the World" was an international success. He is a member of a Greenwhich Village Communist clique that included the likes of Emma Goldmann and Eugene O'Neill. Diane Keaton is Lousie Bryant, a young woman who follows Reed to New York and struggles with finding her own voice in the revolution and commanding the attention of her frenetic lover. Much of the script deals with the clash between interpersonal and political passions by Beatty and Keaton, and it is the weaker part of the film. Love stories are hard, and I did not really get the reason that these two loved each other so much.

What did come across, really quite gloriously, was the political moment. The film recieved Oscar nominations in all four acting categories, with Jack Nicholson and Maureen Stapleton joining Keaton and Beatty. Jack is O'Neill, who longs for Keaton but is too cynical and romantic for her high minded politics. He, as you would expect, is electric, an actor really coming to understand his talents. Stapleton won for her supporting role as Goldmann. Even though her screen time is somewhat limited, she too has a fire that burns through the screen. Keaton too is quite good, inhabiting her daft blond routine early on but then finding some inner strength and confidence as her character comes into her own. And Beatty too does a fine job. He cares as much as his character does, and he is at his best when giving pasisoned speeches before Russian factory workers.

His direction too is highly capable. Zhivago really is the proper analogy here, with lots of grand snow blanketed images and tightly packed meeting halls. The project is huge, and for only his second movie he does a fine job. The Oscar winning cinematography is really fitting to the subject matter. The highlight of the entire film may be Beatty's device of using interviews with now very elderly contemporaries of Reed to serve as transitions between historical periods in the script. The interviews are suprising in their honesty; some adored the group, some hated them, some couldn't really remember them. It was that memory element that struck me, a subtle reference to the fact that the characters cared so deeply about the moment, and yet hardly anyone remembers them or their sacrifices anymore. Beatty makes his film to preserve their actions and to glamorize their lives, but even he recognizes the fungibility of memory. A really nice touch that rewarded the viewer throughout the film.

Reds is very accessible, a populist version of a really complex historical epic. There are lots and lots of things to like about it. Just a few notches below brilliant, the film is well worth your time, especially for the acting.