Cast: Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Edward Herrmann, Jerzy Kosinski, Jack Nicholson, Paul Sorvino, Maureen Stapleton
Oscar Wins: Best Supporting Actress (Maureen Stapleton), Best Director (Warren Beatty), Best Cinematography (Vittorio Storaro)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Warren Beatty), Best Actress (Diane Keaton), Best Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Richard Sylbert, Michael Seirton), Best Costume Design (Shirley Ann Russell), Best Film Editing (Dede Allen, Craig McKay), Best Sound (Dick Vorisek, Tom Fleischman, Simon Kaye), Best Original Screenplay (Warren Beatty, Trevor Griffiths)
SUMMARY: In 1915, Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) is married to a dentist and living in Portland, Oregon. She is bored with her husband, her acquaintances, and her life in general, and when she meets journalist John Reed (Warren Beatty), she is fascinated by his uncommon ideals and political philosophy. Specifically, Reed advocates for extremist forms of government, like communism and anarchy. Louise spends the entire evening talking to Reed, and this ultimately causes her to decide to leave her husband, move to New York, and live with Reed. In New York, she meets his friends, including Emma Goldman (Maureen Stapleton), and author and anarchy advocate, and alcoholic playwright Eugene O’Neill (Jack Nicholson). However, Louise feels vastly out of place among the intelligentsia, so eventually she and Reed leave the city and move to Massachusetts. There, both of them turn their attention to their writing careers, and take up theater as a hobby. Though they still share similar views, the topics of the couple’s writings differ: Reed focuses on politics, and the growing wave of strikes and communist demonstrations, while Louise becomes involved in womens rights and equality. Reed actually begins participating in some of the demonstrations, particularly those held by the Communist Labor Party of America. In 1916, he goes to St. Louis to write about the Democratic National Convention, and while he is gone, O’Neill begins to spend quite a bit of time at the house with Louise. Reed and Louise had hit a rough patch before he left for the Convention, and with him now gone indefinitely, she begins an affair with O’Neill. This lasts until Reed comes back, and the affair becomes obvious. Ultimately, Reed and Louise decide to continue their relationship, and she ends things with O’Neill.
Without telling anybody else, they get married and move to a cottage outside of New York. However, marriage has not dampened either one’s passion for their careers or particular interests, and old issues flare up again. Louise’s affair is known to both, but Reed admits that during their relationship he has had multiple affairs; a disappointed Louise decides to go to Europe and work as a war correspondent (for WWI). In the States, Reed is taken ill with kidney issues, and is told that he should avoid stressful situations, including travel. By this time, he has decided to go to Europe to find Louise, and ignores the doctor’s advice. The two manage to find each other in the aftermath of a battle. At the same time, the regime of Czar Nicholas II is crumbling in Europe, and the Bolsheviks are pushing for a new communist government. Reed and Louise go to Russia to observe and report, and get involved in the downfall and the subsequent revolutionary war. Reed eventually publishes a book about the experience, called Ten Days that Shook the World, that makes him famous. He is thrilled by the communist takeover in Russia, and the promise of the new government, but quickly realizes that the promises are faulty: the men now in charge do not adhere to the true spirit of communism, in his mind. Fed up with Russia and its Bolshevik leadership, Reed decides to try to create a true communist movement in the United States. However, due to his involvement in the Russian government, and his open disagreement with its later policies, he encounters difficulty moving through Europe. He is actually taken prison in Finland, and eventually goes back to Russia, where he finds Louise again. Throughout all of this, Reed has continued to deal with the kidney trouble that plagued him earlier. The disorder has continued to act up, and Reed’s stressful life and frequent travel have only made things worse. By the time he and Louise reunite in Russia, he is extremely weak, and is soon hospitalized. Louise stays by his bed constantly, but Reed never recovers, and dies in Russia in 1920.
MY TAKE: The Russian Revolution was a particularly nasty war, so you would think that a movie that involves said war would be really interesting and action-packed. However, both modern movies that I have seen about the war (Dr. Zhivago and this movie, Reds), are long and sometimes painfully dull. In both cases, the main characters seem to just float around the fringes of the war, rather than actually be involved, so they can’t really be billed as war movies. Coincidentally, I also think the main characters are idiots in both movies. My issues with Zhivago are pretty well documented in my review of that movie, so I won’t rehash them here. My main issue with this movie is that it was extremely boring (and naturally, it goes on for HOURS). There are long portions where nothing seems to happen, particularly when Louise and Reed are living in their various little houses in the U.S. You would think that the lives of two people with such radical ideals would be more interesting. It can also get fairly confusing during the rallies and such, because the issues are intricate and not always well-explained. I have trouble having any sympathy for Louise or Reed, because they both have affairs with other people (while they’re together), take off to different countries when they get pissed at each other, and generally throw themselves into dangerous situations before realizing that, hey, they actually care about each other. The really dumb part is that Reed knows he’s killing himself by doing all of this, but he either doesn’t care or doesn’t believe it, and he apparently didn’t tell Louise, because she surely would have acted differently had she known. As we all know, Communism in Russia did not end up being everything it was supposed to be, and Reed realized that pretty quickly, but by that time, he was too sick to make it. In the end, he ends up dying in a country he really wanted to get out of.