Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Film Review: RED DAWN (1984, John Milius)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 114 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Directed by John Milius (writer of APOCALYPSE NOW, EXTREME PREJUDICE, parts of DIRTY HARRY; director of BIG WEDNESDAY, DILLINGER, CONAN THE BARBARIAN). Starring Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson, Jennifer Grey, C. Thomas Howell, Harry Dean Stanton, Powers Boothe, Ben Johnson (DILLINGER), Darren Dalton (THE OUTSIDERS), Brad Savage (SALEM'S LOT), Vladek Sheybal (Mr. Boogalow in THE APPLE). Cinematography by Ric Waite (THE LONG RIDERS, COBRA). I must note that about half the cast had just 'graduated' from working with Francis Ford Coppola (on the OUTSIDERS), and, likely as a result, are completely 'on' and connected to the material. Harry Dean Stanton manages to emit more pathos in a few minutes of screen time than most can aspire to in an entire career. Powers Boothe's brief appearance is similarly weighty.
Tag-line: "A full scale military invasion by foreign troops begins. Total surprise. Almost total success . . . ."
Best exchange: "What about Europe?" –"I guess they figured twice in one century was enough. They're sitting this one out."

Outside a rural classroom window, paratroopers gracefully drift down from between the clouds. A schoolteacher, hypnotized by the sight, staggers outside- and the cracks of rifles rudely interrupt the reverie.

RED DAWN has entrancing imagery, worthy of Ford or Malick: children huddled on rocky crags, eating canned beans and evading capture; a world of rape, occupation, fathers in cages. You can choose to see this film through many lenses- a student's survivalist daydream, a cautionary tale for a country gone soft, THE BREAKFAST CLUB meets SALVADOR, or a parallel dimension where the Cold War plays out like Philip K. Dick's THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE.

It's a film that focuses on teenage awkwardness- not at sex, but at war. Like WARGAMES, released the previous year, it features marketable young actors forced to accept our world's destructive horrors. But while WARGAMES' terror was confined to one side of a computer monitor, RED DAWN buries your face in the dust and forces you to watch your neighbors as they're shot in the street like dogs.

It puts you in the shoes of an insurgency and in the beleaguered minds of the occupying force. Jingoists can claim that the film gives legitimacy to Reagan, the Military Industrial Complex, Red-Baiting, or what-have-you, but instead, it only demonstrates the impotence of a System that promises safety but has never experienced true loss.

If a situation such as the one in RED DAWN were to arise, the saviors would not be those who wear flag pins and shit-eating grins, nor the blue blood a-holes who, in the film, roll over like so many Rocky Mountain Pétains. It will be the downtrodden, those who have lost the most, those who have witnessed injustice and nurtured their righteous anger like a precious resource.

Che was a medical student, Georges Bidault (of the Free French) was a history teacher, Lech Walesa worked in a shipyard, Nelson Mandela was a clerk at a law firm, and here, the Wolverines were just some high school students in Anywhere, U.S.A...

Five stars.

-Sean Gill

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