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Reds Movie Review

“witness” beatty reed warren

1981 – Warren Beatty –

An intelligent and historical saga, Reds features Warren Beatty at the height of his Hollywood power. Beatty co-wrote with Trevor Griffiths (with an uncredited assist from Robert Towne and Elaine May), directed, and produced, as well as starred. Reds traces the lives of radical writers John Reed (Beatty) and Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) from their meeting in Portland, Oregon, in 1915 to Reed's death in 1920. It combines their love story with the bohemianism of Greenwich Village, the creativity of the Provincetown Playhouse, the excitement of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, and the politics of Reed's later efforts to win formal recognition for American Communist activities. The film makes a great point of its historical accuracy, partly through the effective use of thirty-two “witnesses” who recall the Reeds and the political climate of the early century. It would be wrong to regard these comments as coming from friends of the Reeds since the witnesses' remarks are often presented for irony or simply for the flavor of the era (Georgie Jessel sings patriotic songs), but for the most part this innovative device works well. The film also gains authenticity by including historical characters into its narrative like Eugene O'Neill (Jack Nicholson) and Emma Goldman (Maureen Stapleton).

Beatty plays John Reed as someone who reveals his passions in torrents of words. The script smartly uses his verbal nature as a tool for revealing character and developing the love plot. When he first meets Louise Bryant, she asks him one question about politics, and he talks the night away. Reed seems charmingly unaware of his tendency to babble. He gives the impression of someone who comes up with ideas faster than he can clothe them in words: there always seems to be more opinions backlogged waitingto come out. In one of the best moments from the St. Petersburg scenes, Reed is spilling out a hurried summary of his day when Louise quietly comes up next to him, patiently waits for these verbal waters to recede, and then simply says, “Thank you for bringing me here.” In the context of the film and their relationship, it is a deep expression of love, as are his moments when he checks his urge to chatter and listens to Louise's frustrations or anger about her lack of recognition as a writer. Reed's character coalesces for a brief stretch in the second half of the film when he appears to regard himself more as a writer than a politician.

The film really hits its stride, however, about halfway in when Reed and Louise cover the events leading to the October Revolution. The montage sequences beautifully link the romantic plot with the political one as we hear them on the soundtrack speedily reading excerpts from their reportage about Lenin and Trotsky while we see them in St. Petersburg attending meetings, scurrying through the snow, speaking at rallies. Their politics fuel their love, and their love increases a commitment to politics. Now they offer and accept criticisms of each other's writing constructively. The movie declines from this peak briefly when the American Communist movement splits and Reed is selected to return to Russia to seek formal recognition of his faction. After this lapse, however, the movie rouses itself to a memorable finish when Reed challenges a party boss (Jerzy Kosinski) over changing a word (“class war” to “holy war”) in the translation of his speech and struggles with failing health while Louise travels to be with him.

Cast: Warren Beatty (John Reed), Diane Keaton (Louise Bryant), Edward Herrmann (Max Eastman), Jerzy Kosinski (Grigory Zinoviev), Jack Nicholson (Eugene O'Neill), Paul Sorvino (Louis Fraina), Maureen Stapleton (Emma Goldman), Nicolas Coster (Paul Trullinger), Gene Hackman (Pete Van Wherry), George Plimpton (Horace Wingham), William Daniels (Julius Gerber), M. Emmet Walsh (Speaker—Liberal Club), Ian Wolfe (Mr. Partlow), Bessie Love (Mrs. Partlow), MacIntyre Dixon (Carl Walters), Pat Starr (Helen Walters), Eleanor D. Wilson (Mrs. Reed), Max Wright (Floyd Dell), Roger Baldwin (“witness”), Henry Miller (“witness”), Adela Rogers St. Johns (“witness”), Dora Russell (“witness”), Scott Nearing (“witness”), Tess Davis (“witness”), Heaton Vorse (“witness”), Hamilton Fish (“witness”), Isaac Don Levine (“witness”), Rebecca West (“witness”), Will Durant (“witness”), Will Weinstone (“witness”), Oleg Kerensky (“witness”), Emmanuel Herbert (“witness”), Arne Swabeck (“witness”) , Adele Nathan (“witness”), George Seldes (“witness”), Kenneth Chamberlain (“witness”), Blanche Hays Fagen (“witness”), Galina Von Meck (“witness”), Art Shields (“witness”), Andrew Dasburg (“witness”), Hugo Gellert (“witness”), Dorothy Frooks, (“witness”), George Jessel (“witness”), Jacob Bailin (“witness”), John Ballato (“witness”), Lucita Williams (“witness”), Bernadine Szold-Fritz (“witness”), Jessica Smith (“witness”), Harry Carlisle (“witness”), Arthur Mayer (“witness”) Screenwriter: Warren Beatty, Trevor Griffiths Cinematographer: Vittorio Storaro Composer: Stephen Sondheim Producer: Warren Beatty for Paramount MPAA Rating: PG Running Time: 195 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1981: Cinematography, Director (Warren Beatty), Supporting Actress (Maureen Stapleton); Nominations: Actor (Warren Beatty), Actress (Diane Keaton), Art Direction/Set Decoration, Costume Design, Editing, Screenplay, Picture, Sound, Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson); British Academy Awards, 1982: Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson), Supporting Actress (Maureen Stapleton); Directors Guild of America Awards, 1981: Director (Warren Beatty); Golden Globe Awards, 1982: Director (Warren Beatty); Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, 1981: Cinematography, Director (Warren Beatty), Supporting Actress (Maureen Stapleton); National Board of Review Awards, 1981: Director (Warren Beatty), Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson); New York Film Critics Awards, 1981: Supporting Actress (Maureen Stapleton); Writers Guild of America, 1981: Screenplay Budget: reports vary from $34–45M Box Office: $45M.

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