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You notice we review lots of horror movies - that is true, my brother an I tend to favor that genre. However, we have seen plenty of the classics, romantic comedies, sci-fi, action, biographies, foreign films, indie films, anime, and westerns, to boot.

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Review: Red Dawn (1984)

Red Dawn is an interesting 80's action movie that had a group of fast rising stars (at that time) as the leads including: Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C Thomas Howell, Jennifer Grey, and Lea Thompson.  It was written and directed by John Milius, and is rated 'PG-13' for violence and language.

Basics: World War III starts, with Russia and some pro-communist Latin American troops invading the United States.  The prologue informed us that the United States is basically alone in this fight, as NATO has dissolved, and no other European nations will assist.  Several large cities including Washington DC were destroyed by nuclear strikes, however, neither side is using nuclear weapons anymore due to the fear of the fallout.
The story takes place in and around the fictional town of Calumet, Colorado, where students at the local high school witness the hostile forces parachuting down and begin killing civilians.  A group of "kids" led by brothers by Jed (Swayze) and Matt (Sheen) take off into the woods/mountains outside of Calumet during the invasion.  They are able to gather some supplies and weapons at a sporting good store owned by Robert's (Howell) father before leaving, ahead of the hostile forces.  After several weeks in the woods they venture back into town to discover that many of the local men have been placed in re-education camp at the town's drive-in movie theater and the enemy military controls everything.
The group picks up two new members Toni (Grey) and Erica (Thompson) while visiting an elderly couple, and then the "fun" begins.  The group, now calling themselves the "Wolverines" (their high school mascot) begin guerrilla-style attacks on the invaders with a lot of success for several months.  However, the Russian special forces arrive and several of the Wolverines are killed in some skirmishes.
The films ends with Jed and Matt wandering back into town in a "final showdown" fighting, while 2 of the other Wolverines escape to 'Free America', where the Americans are still in control.  The epilogue states that the Soviet forces were later repelled.

What you might like:
- This is a very pro-American, anti-Soviet, "us-against-them" themed piece, that really highlights what the Cold War in the Regan years was all about.  The idea that these high school aged kids from "Anytown, America" would stand up to the cold, arrogant, evil commies and fight is enough to make any red-blooded United States citizen smile.
- Howell truly transformed throughout the film.  His character Robert started out as the scared teen, but quickly turned into an "adult" as Matt and Jed taught him to hunt deer, in a particularly interesting scene as Robert consumes some blood of his first kill.  Robert slowly degenerates into a cold killer as the Wolverines' campaign progress - not that he enjoys it, but that he accepts it as part of their lives.  He is finally killed attempting to stand in the open, as if invincible, against a Russian helicopter attack. 
- There is plenty and gunfire and explosions to keep action fans satiated, and there is no sad attempt to force a romantic storyline in.  Plus, we are meant to think that "we won".  Yay.

What you might not like:
- Outside of Howell, the other leads were emotionally flat.  The lines from the script were being delivered, but there was just nothing there.  I would have understood if it came off like shell-shock or PTSD - which Howell did - but everyone else looked like they were in a high school play.  We saw very little interaction between them after the beginning, to build any kind of personalities or dynamics.
- The believability factor really gets pushed.  The idea that these teenagers are fighting against trained military and winning every battle - early on - is laughable.  Not only are they winning (killing all of the enemies and damaging or stealing their equipment), none of the Wolverines are getting hurt.  We never see the kids training to use some of the heavy duty weapons, for example, rocket propelled grenades and .50 caliber machine guns, yet all of them can fire these tools of war with precision. 
Again, with the tone being pro-American, the enemy soldiers are made to look like complete idiots.  The leaders bellow out grandiose orders, and the underlings run scattered about.  So the question begs, if they are such idiots how did they even succeed in the initial invasion?  
It also seemed like in the town, the citizenry just threw up their hands and said "we give up" and the only people fighting back are this group of kids.  There was also no explanation as to why certain citizens were sent to re-education camp after the invasion, while others were permitted to basically go about their business.    
- The flow of the movie, especially the "sense of time" as to how much (action) has happened, over how long of a period (days/weeks/months).  It's as if a bunch of action scenes and drama segments were spliced together, almost haphazardly.  It made me feel at points like I was watching something that was edited for TV, even though it wasn't.  We see this group of kids that have supposedly been fighting for months, yet other than slight costume changes and snow on the ground (at one point), we would not know the difference from the beginning or end of the movie.  From one scene to the next it is impossible to fill in the blanks as to what preceded the action that is happening now.  (This goes along with the believability factor.)
- Other than a verbalization near the end of the movie that Jed and Matt were "used up" from all the fighting, there was seemingly no acknowledgement what this war was doing to the characters.  Like my comments about the flat emotions, it seemed like the action was just going through the proverbial motions at times. 
- Getting back on the topic of the other townsfolk: wouldn't have anyone else joined in the fight with the Wolverines once it was seen they were winning against the clearly inferior invaders?  That made very little sense that no one was really rising up to actively assist these kids.   

Final Recommendation: The movie is comic book entertaining, and seeing the all the stars in their younger days is a treat.  Red Dawn offers little in the way strong characters and relies mostly a hodge podging of action scenes to drive the plot.  If you were a child/teen of this deacde, like me, then it could be easier to relate to this film, however, I do not consider one of the better films of the 80's.

- There is reboot version of Red Dawn that came out in 2012, the invaders were North Korean
- Swayze and Howell starred together in The Outsiders
- Swayze and Grey starred together in Dirty Dancing

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