Red Dawn (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fight for your country.

Due to the recent release of the remake of this film I decided it would be a good time to review the original.  One thing that has always surprised me about this movie is the fact that out of all the 80’s movies out there why this one would remain such a perennial hit to the point of remaking it even though the cold war has technically long been over has always been a bit of a mystery. I know the ladies at my office are young and don’t know many old movies, but for whatever reason they are familiar with this one, which kind of compelled to check it out.

I remember when the film came out many liberals complained that this could never happen and tried to boycott it much like they did with the ‘Amerika’ mini-series that came out a few years later and dealt with the same plot. My position on the matter remains the same, which is freedom of speech comes first and if someone wants to make a movie about a Soviet invasion more power to them and if they want to make a movie about Sweden invading us then they can do that too.

Now with that said I still felt it seemed farfetched. The explanation for how the Soviets were able to invade us so very easily and quickly is spotty, but I guess if you are going to enjoy the film then you’re going to have to overlook it.

The plot consists of soviet troops parachuting out of the sky and shooting up a classroom before taking over the rest of the small Colorado town. A group of teens manage to escape and hide out in the nearby mountains. Eventually they start to wage guerrilla warfare against the invading troops and name themselves the ‘Wolverines’.

I liked the way the teens are portrayed. They are not just a bunch of spoiled, superficial suburban kids concerned with being hip and trendy and talking in some irritating slang. Instead they seem very much like young men growing into being real men. The fact that there are a few casualties and that they change and become hardened by what they go through makes it all the more authentic. I also liked that the two young women they pick up along the way end up fighting and shooting up the bad guys just as well as the males.

Patrick Swayze does a terrific job as the group’s leader. He makes a strong presence and I wished the movie had focused more on him. It is fun seeing Charlie Sheen looking very boyish and older actor Harry Dean Stanton has a good bit as the father of one of the boys who is now imprisoned in a labor camp and instructing them on how to toughen up.

My favorite performance though was Lea Thompson. She is real young and cute. I loved her volatile temper, her willingness to use a rifle without hesitation, and her infatuation with Andy Tanner (Powers Boothe) a much older man who joins them.

I liked that the point-of-view is exclusively with the kids. There is no attempt to show things from the Communist side, or even try to humanize them at least not until the very, very end. They are portrayed as monstrous and evil lining up civilians and savagely shooting them. If there is anything that can resonate with the masses it is emotionalism and this film keys in on it well and I think that is why it has remained a hit. It becomes like a David and Goliath story with the teens showing up the evil empire and disrupting their plans. I found myself rooting for them even though I kept wondering how they were able to find all that ammunition that they use as well as the warheads.

Action wise it is pretty good. It starts from the very beginning and doesn’t let up. In fact this film was in The Guinness Book of World Records at the time for having the most violent acts of any movie. The film averages 134 violent acts per hour and 2.23 per minute. I enjoyed that the special effects are all real and none of this computerized crap like you see today, which to me still looks phony and makes movies seem too much like a video game.

After about the first hour the movie started to drag and I kept looking at my watch wondering when it would be over. The ending had some satisfying elements as they attack the building housing all the leaders of the invasion, but it is not enough. If you take away the novelty of the Communist invasion then this thing is really just a standard action flick that is no better or worse than the thousands of others out there. The only reason to watch this is to compare it to the remake, or vice-versa.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 10, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG-13 (The First movie ever to have this rating)

Director: John Milius

Studio: MGM/UA

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

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