If we ever recap 1981’s Oscar season, I have a pretty strong suspicion I’ll be railing against the inclusion of Reds in the discussion. Nominated for 12 Oscars, it won three (Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Director). Without having seen many of the other movies nominated or having the potential to be nominated, I suppose I can’t say anything too definitive, but I imagine the only Oscars I could have supported were the nominated performances of Diane Keaton (Best Actress) and Jack Nicholson (Best Supporting Actor). By the way, the last four years Jack’s been nominated for an Oscar? 1988, 1993, 1998, and 2003. Just saying.

Reds is based on the story of John Reed’s life. John Reed was a journalist from the U.S. who was in Russia when the Communists took over. He later wrote Ten Days That Shook The World about the experience. The book is still relatively well-known, and special to me because I somehow still remember seeing it in the University of Maryland library for some high school report I was writing.

The movie, written by Warren Beatty and Trevor Griffiths, is framed by the love story of Reed (Beatty) and Louise Bryant (Keaton), but also makes forays into intellectualism in the U.S. at the time and the Bolshevik Revolution and its immediate effects. Not succinctly either, the sucker clocks in at over three hours. And there’s the ultimate problem of the movie, in my opinion. The range of the movie is epic, and while it might be necessary to tell John Reed’s story, it also hinders enjoyment of the film. The way Reed and Bryant meet is cute (or “meet cute” as I may have learned from watching The Holiday recently (review to come)), but did we really need twenty minutes (or whatever) of Bryant’s ensuing ennui as Reed and his intellectual cronies including Eugene O’Neill (Nicholson) blabbered? And how is Emma Goldman (Maureen Stapleton in an Oscar-winning role) relevant to the story at all? In my mind, her nomination was Ruby Dee-esque. Finally, while the old people recounting stories of Reed and Bryant sometimes served to break things up (and did bring to mind When Harry Meant Sally), but the bits seemed jarring and out of place.

The movie does have much to applaud, especially for those who enjoy an intermission in films they watch. As I mentioned, I thought Nicholson and Keaton were great. And I’m a bit of a Warren Beatty fan. It is also fun to see Gene Hackman show up. Balancing a relatively standard love story with the events of 1917 and their fallout in the U.S.A. and Russia is obviously quite difficult, and the film ably straddles that line often. Beatty (as writer, director, and actor) does an admirable job displaying Reed’s determination in sticking to his convictions even as he becomes disillusioned with the Bolsheviks, and with the Communists in the United States. Especially considering the time when the movie was filmed, Beatty takes in the high road in largely not reducing the Bolsheviks to caricatures, but instead painting them in a relatively honest (historically-speaking) light.

Reds is a decent movie, though not great. While it certainly could have been a little shorter, I’m not sure that would have bumped it up a star for me. There are interesting stories within, but as a whole, Reds fails to congeal into a cohesive movie.

After the jump, one of the most misleading trailers I’ve ever seen:

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