Reds was both an unexpected and dangerous production to emerge from capitalist Hollywood. Ninety years ago, in the midst of the Bolshevik revolution, left-wing politics in America had created great political conflicts within the country – and not just between the spring of socialists and the conservatives. Leftist parties were conflicting against one another – parties like the Socialist Party and the New American Communist Party were immersed in intense rivalries. Reds’ subject, John Reed, played by director Warren Beatty, was entangled in the struggle, participating in battles between the two primary left-wing parties – having built up an interest in radical politics after playing journalist in Russia. Inspired by the Bolsheviks, Reed earned his fame after the publication of his book, “Ten Days that Shook the World”.
Warren Beatty clearly has a fascination in 20th century American politics, especially among factions of the left. But Reds hasn’t garnered its nationwide recognition through a political standpoint which is widely hated within the United States. A country whose more intelligent citizens just about tolerate liberalism more likely turned towards the characters in the film – the relationships formed and interactions had. Actually, the feature, while rich in Reed’s political beliefs, shines as a romantic triumph and heartrending love story. This became a fascinating combination, and both sides of the story – the politics and the love – carry Beatty’s film and help it evolve in different ways, venture along different pathways.
Warren Beatty portrays more than just a political journalist. His Reed symbolizes the radical youth of 1920’s America, the creation and intellectualism that was shooting out of Greenwich Village, and a political upheaval that gave America a sense that they were transforming history. Reed, however, is more than just an important historical figure. Beatty provides a sense of charm, softness and jokiness which changes the way the film’s protagonist is perceived on screen. The love blossoms from the introduction of Louise Bryant, played by Diane Keaton. Drawn to his outspoken political involvement, Bryant takes to Reed immediately. Leaving her husband, following Reed and spending time in Greenwich Village with the liberal poets and artists of the generation, Bryant becomes fiercely involved in her writing. All the while, Reed is somewhat distanced from Bryant, engaging in the labour strikes with his fellow “Reds”. While one follows a career in writing and the other becomes more and more involved in politics, infidelities follow. At the same time, Reed is diagnosed with a kidney disorder, complicating his on-going mission to change the world.
Reds takes the viewer from Portland to Russia, from high society living to Greenwich Village. There is time spent with the leftist political parties burning throughout New York, and an affair with playwright Eugene O’Neill (Jack Nicholson). There is revolution everywhere, and Reed is in the midst of everything. Alongside this young journalist’s fascination with the mere fact that something incomprehensibly big and politically upturning is all around him, a deeply affecting love story chases behind. Warren Beatty has shown what he can do with Reds, and this 1981 epic may well be his masterpiece.