Reds may have been billed as a “sweeping epic”. It was not. A long film it was: about 3 hrs and 10 minutes. Reds seemed to be two films and a partial documentary. The partial documentary is the real-life narrations, weaved throughout the film, of elderly men and women who knew Reed and Bryant.
In the first part of Reds Jack Reed, a journalist and advocate for socialism, encounters Louise Bryant, a married feminist and author. They have an affair and later marry — but only after Bryant has an affair with poet and playwright Eugene O’ Neill (Jack Nicholson). Reed and Bryant move from Portland, Oregon to Greenwich Village of New York City to live the nascent “free love” lifestyle.
Their ideals of “revolution”, in the form of “freeing the working classes” and of “free love”, seems to be always trumped by human nature. Reds falls short in exploring the “radicalness” (read “root”) of their philosophies. We don’t learn much of how their views were formed or of why they ardently believe that their way is a “better way”. However, Reds does an excellent job of showing us human nature and the dynamics of relationships, even so-called “complicated” ones (read “multiple lovers”, “professional versus family obligations”, etc.)
Disagreements and arguments between Reed and Bryant nearly always — and quickly — become “shouting matches” in which Reds gives these characters some wonderful dialog, save, unfortunately, for filthy words. (The film was Rated PG). In addition, the attempted psychoanalysis and propositions by O’ Neill (Nicholson ) to Bryant (Keaton) are worthy of replay. Twenty-eight years after it’s release, it’s not too difficult to see how writing in films as atrophied.
The second part of Reds portrays Reed going to Russia to join the Bolshevik Revolution and continuing to form the Communist Party in America. (Reed wrote Ten Days that Shook the World (1919), a chronicle of the Bolshevik Revolution from his perspective.) This part of the film was adequate in portraying the Bolshevik Revolution but, once again, the ideas and consequences of the Bolshevik Revolution are glossed over.
Although Maureen Stapleton won Best Supporting Actress as character Emma Goldman, the award could have easily went to Diane Keaton for her portrayal of Louise Bryant. Warren Beatty also had a good performance but he seemed to have been indistinguishable at times from Jerry Seinfeld's character in Seinfeld. Perhaps Seinfeld had its inspiration in Beatty?
I would recommend Reds if you are a fan of any of the actors or are interested in the events of the Bolshevik Revolution, otherwise, it is a safe pass.
Photo: Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton in Reds ©1981 Barclays Mercantile Industrial Finance Limited