I think with us it’s more like good intentions, but with Jack it’s a religion.
This is a movie made for Christopher Hitchens. Old time socialist/communists in a literary and journalistic tradition. Watching the movie, I have the same thought that I have every time I hear about this crowd–where do you get this stuff? “Property is theft!” reads the sign on Jack Reed’s (Warren Beatty) door. What nonsense. “Capitalists don’t make anything but money.” How ironic that the same people who subscribe to materialist, Marxist, blah blah blah can’t accept the concept that a banker, though he works sitting down, is a part of the economy. How are the workers, once they control the means of production, to build more factories? Hitchens, at least, was absolutely honest enough to know Stalin et. al. for what they were and the U.S.S.R. for what it was.
In 1981, Reds doesn’t have the benefit of seeing the Soviet Union fall and so must be forgiven some idealism for believing in revolutions, workers of the world uniting, and all the rest of it. Don’t mistake me. This isn’t a propaganda film. The true nature of things does get a moment in the movie and a defense is mounted (possibly rhetorically). But really, it’s an epic of the relationship of Jack Reed and Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) and the backdrop is the American salon, if I can use such a term, and the politics they blathered about. Reed/Bryant being journalists, a good part of the movie also includes their coverage of the times, but it’s always about them. And that’s great, it saves the movie from being drivel. Can I say it “saved” it when it wasn’t anything else?
The other thing I love about this movie, in the way of irony, is the timelessness of people’s political/social “beliefs” in free love and all the rest of it, but when it comes down to cases, they’re as possessive, obsessive, and sappy as any bourgeois consumer. Bryant has an affair with Eugene O’Neill (Jack Nicholson), who falls desperately in love with her, and Reed get’s incredibly jealous. The best part of this movie, in some ways, are the many fights Bryant and Reed have with one another. They’re so true and realistic that I bow before them. You might think them trite or cliche, but I think that’s just a reflection of how human it is.
Written (with Trevor Griffiths) and directed by Beatty, this is a great movie. It’s long and epic, but the story is full and the telling is good. I wouldn’t want to say the plot is good, because it’s an epic and plot isn’t really the issue of the day. The requirements of the movie are to have strong characters and acting while providing scenes that go somewhere. This movie does all of that. Beatty is excellent, Keaton is better, Nicholson is the best. Beatty always plays his roles a little flabbergasted–never really sure what’s going on. But in matters of male-female relations, that’s always a true performance. Keaton as the thin-skinned writer with all the inconsistencies of belief-vs-emotion I tend to ascribe to a certain form of human.
The movie also breaks up the action with talking heads, which I take to be genuine interviews with commies and those incredibly not communist who knew Reed and Bryant or could speak about the times. I’m torn on whether this makes the movie better or worse, more or less timeless.
You know, there’s one thing about the 21st century and that’s great communication and transportation. When it takes months to get somewhere and days to get word, a miscommunication can cause all sorts of problems. That’s life in the slow lane.
Eventually, everyone gets disillusioned. That’s typical. If you were a socialist that wasn’t disillusioned by the Purges in ’33, you were naive. If not by Hungary in ’56, you were a zealot. If not by Czechoslavakia in ’68, you were a fool. Well, our characters are disillusioned by 1919. Was it because they weren’t true believers or because they accepted something of whats true in all people that defies the Soviet ideology? As Reed says, if you can’t be an individual in the collective, you have no self to give. No wonder so many of the defectors were artists.