I remember when Reds was in theatrical release back in 1981.
It was getting a lot of buzz, but not all of it was good. Before
I had seen the film, I overheard someone complaining that this "goddamned
piece of Communist propaganda" was nominated for 12 Academy Awards.
(It would go on to win three including best director for co-writer/producer/director/star
Warren Beatty.) The thing that struck me was the amount of venom
this man had for the film. After all, it was just a movie; mere shadows
dancing on a screen. This was the first time that I really thought
about the power and influence that film had, and it was partially responsible
for my current love of the media. (Of course I was even more astounded
when I saw the movie on a movie channel a year or so later and saw that
it wasn't a pro-communist movie.) Now this powerful, emotion-inspiring
movie has been released as a Blu-ray disc. The epic film looks outstanding
in high definition and is sure to find its way into many BD libraries.
This historical drama is the story of Jack Reed (Warren Beatty).
He was a left wing reporter and eventual Marxist working in America in
the 1910's. He covered the war in Mexico as well as factory strikes,
labor unrest, and other social issues and was staunchly against the US
entering WWI. As the film opens he's visiting his home town of Portland
Oregon and meets Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton). The wife of a local
dentist, Louise is a free spirit; a writer who feels trapped in the then
provincial town of Portland. Her meeting with Jack inspires her to
leave her husband, move to Greenwich Village with Jack, and become a professional
writer. There the pair hob-nob with a group of bohemians and intellectuals
including Eugene O'Neill (Jack Nicholson), Emma Goldman (Maureen Stapleton)
and Max Eastman (Edward Herrmann).
After seeing first hand the unsafe and poor working conditions that
that people toiling in factories had to endure, along with their long hours
and poverty inducing wages, Jack (and Louise) embrace the radical politics
of the time, free love, Marxism, and anarchy. He travels all over
the country raising money for Communist magazines and covering the political
events of the day, which causes strain between him and Louise. She
wants him to stay home, but at the same time she hates that she's so possessive.
After a particularly bad fight she leaves for Europe to cover the war.
When the Russian revolution starts and Tzar of Russian is killed along
with his family, Jack feels that this may be the most news story ever,
and hurries to the country picking up Louise on the way. There they
experience the rise of the Bolsheviks first hand and when they return to
the US, Jack writes a book about the revolution that will become his masterpiece:
Ten Days That Shook the World.
After the publication of his book, Reed becomes even more active in
Communist politics in the US. He helps to start the Communist Labor
Party and is sent back to Russia by that organization in the hopes that
the government there will officially recognize the party. This was
illegal at the time, and Jack had to sneak into the country, and once there
This is an epic movie, and not just because of its three hour length.
The film is subtle yet bold, intimate but grand, and very engrossing.
Reed was an interesting character, a lowly journalist interested in the
very fringes of the US political system who ends up being the only American
to be buried in the Kremlin.
Because the film deals with politics, it could have easily gotten bogged
down in details and been a bore. That doesn't happen, though the
film does drag a bit in parts, because Warren Beatty wisely places the
focus on Jack and Louise's love. This is a love story played out
in front of the Russian Revolution, sort of an American version of Doctor
Another excellent choice that Beatty made was to tie the story together
with testimonials from people who actually knew Jack Reed and Louise Bryant.
The movie starts with a series of very old people recalling memories from
half a century ago, and this narrative device was a stroke of genius.
It prevents the characters from having to recite awkward and unrealistic
dialog to set the time, place and important events that were occurring.
It also serves to make the events in the movie real. There is a connection
between the film and the real world, and that make the movie relevant.
Warren Beatty certainly deserved his Best Director Oscar for this film.
His touch is gentle and he's willing to let the actors play their parts
subtly. Some of the best moments of the film don't have any dialog.
When Louise is looking for Jack when the train arrives in Moscow near the
end is a good example of this. There is tension and drama, but no
swelling music or overdone hysteria. Keaton simply looks worried,
and that's enough to make the audience feel for her. She proves with
this role that she can play dramatic parts as well as comedy.
The acting is excellent across the board. Not only are Beatty
and Keaton very good, but the supporting actors all do a wonderful job.
Jack Nicholson steals every scene he's in playing Eugene O'Neill, and Maureen
Stapleton is fantastic as the anarchist Emma Goldman. Being an actor
himself Beatty knew how to get excellent performances out of his cast.
The only real qualm I have with the movie is the casting of the leads.
Warren Beatty and his (at the time) real life lover Diane Keaton did a
good job, but they were just a bit too old to play the young lovers.
They always seemed like they were in their early-to-mid 30's, and partially
because of that it was hard to tell the passage of time. They also
didn't have much chemistry together on screen, which is a bit surprising.
I did have a couple of problems with the script too. I never really
understood what Jack Reed and Eugene O'Neill saw in Louise. As she's
depicted in the movie she has few redeeming qualities. She's a poor
writer who can't finish anything she starts, is very sensitive to criticism,
and very hypocritical when it comes to sex. (She sleeps with someone
else but leaves Jack when he tells her that he's done the same thing.)
A wilting flower that can't kick people out of her own apartment, she came
across as rather shrill at times. Luckily it is easy to believe that
Jack did love her, for whatever reasons.
This film runs 195 minutes, which is 3 ¼ hours for those of
you who don't want to do the math, and is split over two 25 GB Blu-ray
discs. I was really disappointed to see that when I opened the case
since the entire film and extras could have fit on a dual layer disc.
Having to get up and change the disc half way through the movie isn't a
hardship, but it's something that viewers shouldn't have to do. I
think Paramount would have done better to push back the release a bit in
order to put it on a single BD.
I was very interested to see how a 25 year old film would look on Blu-ray.
Would the higher definition just magnify the flaws, or would it make the
movie look even more impressive? With Reds, it's more of the later
than the former. The 1080p 1.85:1 image looked very good, especially
for a film of this age. The movie was filmed with a new (at the time)
ENR variable silver retention development process that allowed cinematographer
Vittorio Storaro to practically paint each frame with soft but deep colors.
This disc reproduces those lovely hues beautifully and the colors are very
striking. The detail is also outstanding, though there are few scenes
that really pop off of the screen. Contrast is also fine throughout
the production. One thing that I was very happy to see was the care
and attention given to the print used for the transfer. It looks
impeccable, without any noticeable spots, scratches, dirt, or other imperfections.
The blacks were constant throughout and fairly deep though they could have
been just a hair darker.
There were a couple of things that prevents this from being a perfect
transfer. There is grain in several scenes, in the opening logo it
is especially noticeable, but it is rarely excessive. I was surprised
to see some telecine wobble in the opening credits. The white titles
on a black background shake from side to side ever so slightly as they
are presented but this flaw isn't noticeable in the rest of the film.
This disc offers the original two channel mono soundtrack as well as
a newly created 5.1 mix. I have to admit that the 5.1 mix didn't
impress me too much. Though the whole soundstage was used most of
the action was still centered on the screen. This mix also felt a
little forced as if the engineer was looking for an excuse to throw some
sound to the rears, and the effects weren't as discreet as they would have
been on a more contemporary film. The dynamic range was also very
limited with both ends of the audio spectrum cut off, and this made the
movie sound a little flat. Having said that, I honestly think the
producers of this disc did the best they could with the material that they
had. The audio is very clean, without dropouts or hiss, and the dialog
is easy to discern. There are also mono dubs in French and Spanish
as well as subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
There is only a single bonus item, aside from a trailer, an eight-part
documentary on the making of the film. As Warren Beatty states at
the beginning of this hour+ featurette, he doesn't like commentaries and
DVD extras and he hasn't participated in them in the past. This film
is close to his heart, he's famously not allowed it to be edited for television,
and I think it was only that reason that he agreed to participate.
This look back at the film features interviews with Beatty himself as well
as cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, actor Jack Nicholson, Paramount CEO
Barry Diller, and many other cast and crew members. Diane Keaton
is conspicuous in her absence and it's too bad that she couldn't or wouldn't
participate. This is a funny, entertaining and enlightening examination
of the film. Most of the production is examined from Warren Beatty
discussing how he obtained the funding for the film, to the disagreements
the he and Storaro had about camera movement, and the reaction it received.
After watching so many fluff extras on so many other DVDs I was very pleased
to see a featurette that was meaty and had a lot of substance.
With beautiful cinematography, excellent acting, subtle direction and
an engrossing script, this is a movie that truly deserves all of the accolades
that have been heaped upon it. That alone would make this a movie
worth owning, but the Blu-ray disc presents this epic film with gorgeous
colors and a very detailed image. A great film and a great looking
disc, this one is Highly Recommended.