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RED DAWN (1984) - Insurgents Fight Foreign Invaders, American Style


By RRA - Posted on 31 January 2009

 

RED DAWN (1984) - *** out of 5

"Avenge Me!!!"

There is a shot in RED DAWN focusing upn a car's bumper sticker: They can have my gun when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers. We then cut to a Soviet paratrooper pulling a Colt revolver from a dead man's grip. Whatever writer/director/NRA supporter John Milius has a sense of humor or it's a serious scene that fails, I always get a laugh out of it.

What is known now is that the whole premise of RED DAWN is based upon a fallacy from its epoch. We didn't learn until after the Cold War that the Russians didn't have the military or economical capacity to fully invade and occupy America in the 1980s, far from it. Plus, America's geographical isolation makes any invasion by a foreign power utterly impossible, but that doesn't matter.

DAWN's scheme is a fantasy what-if in the tradition of John Steinbeck's THE MOON IS DOWN and a exploratory tale of armed guerilla resistance inspired by the docu-drama THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS. People simply dismiss this film as stupid ideological paranoia from the Reagan Decade, but where were these people when the RAMBO sequels were insanely popular?

With the plot being the Soviets invading America and high school kids becoming guerilla fighters, it should have been pretty darn stupid and absurd, except this is John Milius we're talking about here.

He help scripted APOCALYPSE NOW. He shot the awesomeness that is CONAN THE BARBARIAN, and he inspired John Goodman's character in THE BIG LEBOWSKI. He aint a moronic flag-waver like Michael Bay. He knows and loves his guns, but he's rather intellectually underrated as a filmmaker. I mean in DAWN he obviously is influenced by the Soviet-produced war classic ALEXANDER NEVSKY (about a people besieged by ruthless foreign invaders) and ALGIERS, which was shot by a dedicated communist.

Now I don't agree with many of Milius' politics. I prefer to keep firearms from the hands of idiots who treat them like toys, and certainly some moments in RED DAWN seem to be his thematic argument against gun control. But what I do dig is his small touches in what is otherwise a decent if at times cheesy action movie.

Take the Cuban Colonel. As a member of the Soviet occupation authority, he seems to understand why they're being beaten by these high school kids, but his Russian superiors want to hear nothing of it. Just like Col. Mathieu in THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS, he's a former partisan fighter that is now the imperialist opposition of an insurgency...and he's utterly disillusioned by all of this. We never see such compelling communist baddies in the RAMBO pictures, and yet Milius in Hollywood is seen as a psychopath. I rather have guys like Milius still making movies than the [i]"Hollywood conservative"[/i] garbage we get like

Then there are Milius' references to history from the Rocky Mountain landscape evoking intentional Deja vu feelings of Afghanistan to the town's cooperation this side of Vichy France. Other nice stuff include Powers Boothe as the downed American pilot who gives a chilling assessment of this Third World War, which no viewer ever forgets:

Jed Eckert: ...Well, who *is* on our side?
Col. Andy Tanner: Six hundred million screaming Chinamen.
Darryl Bates: Last I heard, there were a billion screaming Chinamen.
Col. Andy Tanner: There *were*.

Another great moment of dialogue from Milius, after these brats kill some Russians in an ambush:

Danny: They were people!
Robert: Yeah, well, so was my dad.

I also liked the Russian counter-attack against these Wolverines, where for once we get bad guys who learn their earlier mistakes, promptly and smartly set up our hapless partisan fighters, and nail them. 

Ultimately I guess I liked RED DAWN because I enjoyed seeing Milius taking these materialistic and selfish kids of America and making them into soldiers fighting for a cause beyond shopping malls and crappy pop music, though apparently some folks took it too seriously and missed the whole point. The irony was that when American occupation forces of Iraq captured Saddam Hussein in 2003, the seizure operation was called Operation Red Dawn because supposedly the officer in charge was a big fan of the movie.

Not really a surprise, since it's sorta a cult classic in the South, or as those Neo-Cons refer as The Heartland (even by Yankees.) Milius was reportedly honored, which was about as good as how the growing-in-popularity UFC uses roughly the ring he had designed decades ago.

But anyway, The Pentagon claims that codename was just a mere coincidence, that a movie about native insurgents waging a nasty war against foreign invaders has no bearing at all with Iraq, and that we have not become the Cuban Colonel, no sir yee not at all!

Staunch believer in Hanlon's Razor that I am, I'll tentatively side with the Pentagon (unless it really thinks an insurgency in a territory it occupies is a good idea).

The basic premise of Red Dawn reminds me of a Japanese anime series that aired a couple of seasons in the past 2 years. The "what if" scenario was: Britain never lost the colonies, and the idea of a republic founded on the protection of citizens' rights was never realized. Using what would become the most powerful industry in the world, Britain steamrolls the world, including Japan (the setting for much of the series). There, a high school student and chess master gains the ability to command anyone (it's sci-fi), and sparks an armed revolution.

It's a tad more complex than that, but perhaps the design committee borrowed an idea or two from Red Dawn.

----

And there's no sense crying over every mistake
You just keep on trying 'til you run out of cake.

MM - Check this out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Red_Dawn

They searched two sites, "Wolverine 1" and "Wolverine 2", outside the ad-Dawr town, but did not find Saddam Hussein.

Oh yes, no coincidence considering the name of the RED DAWN rebel kids were.....The Wolverines!

I think what happened was, a good ole fanboy used an opportunity to redneck-nerd out, and afterwards his higher-ups at the Pentagon had to go into PR clean-up mode after some eggs up there probably realized the unintended and negative irony.

That said, I still enjoy RED DAWN, a solid picture that unfairly has a bad reputation from both liberals (who confuse it with RAMBO 2) and revisionistic Neo-Cons (who took it seriously.)

BTW, whats the name of that anime? I gotta say, that premise sounds utterly compelling for me.

The name would be Code Geass, and it's "mainstream" enough to have had a licensing deal as soon as it was announced. It reminded me of a recent Gundam (Seed, actually) and the plot ran aground at the end of the first season. They apparently wove in a plausible excuse for returning the main character to his high school (amnesia) for the second season, but by then I figured it wasn't worth my attention.
----

And there's no sense crying over every mistake
You just keep on trying 'til you run out of cake.

I was wondering why you were reviewing a 20-plus-year-old film.

As for the film itself, I agree that it was pretty good. I remember watching it when I could -- I don't remember if we rented it or if it came on TV. I now I own it on DVD of course.

I liked the sympathetic view of the Cuban colonel.

You should compare and contrast it with the movie "The Siege of Firebase Gloria" which had echoes of the movie "Platoon" in it, along with some sympathetic scenes with the NVA Colonel in charge of the siege.

Although said scenes came later in the movie and weren't as powerful if the movie had developed both sides better from the beginning. 

"For those who plan with audacity and execute with vigor,
progress is the magnificent by product." 

I was wondering why you were reviewing a 20-plus-year-old film.

Well, RFO is full of genuinely disgruntled conservatives, and RED DAWN is a honestly good conservative movie. In this age of FIREPROOF and that atrocious AN AMERICAN CAROL, we need our own cinematic champions...like last year's REDBELT.

I should review that one sometime.

You should compare and contrast it with the movie "The Siege of Firebase Gloria" which had echoes of the movie "Platoon" in it, along with some sympathetic scenes with the NVA Colonel in charge of the siege.

Although said scenes came later in the movie and weren't as powerful if the movie had developed both sides better from the beginning. 

Never heard of it, but it does sound interesting. Thanks for the recommendation.

R. Lee Ermey and Wings Hauser.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098328/

Maybe echoes of "The Green Berets", what, with the big seige and all. I might have confused that with "Platoon".

One of my favorites, though.

Heh, and I see "Red Dawn" as more of an eighties movie than strictly a "conservative" movie, but it did play to those tropes a bit.  I don't really disagree.

"For those who plan with audacity and execute with vigor,
progress is the magnificent by product." 

Quote from above:

"What is known now is that the whole premise of RED DAWN is based upon a fallacy from its epoch. We didn't learn until after the Cold War that the Russians didn't have the military or economical capacity to fully invade and occupy America in the 1980s, far from it"

Not to mention that we knew, even back then, that the U.S. was a nation the Soviets desperately did not want to fight.

I saw that film in the theater 25 years ago.  (Gawd, has it been that long?)     It seemed ridiculously sappy to see Russian paratroopers dropping out of the sky over "Heartland" America without triggering any sort of TV publicity, much less a National Defense alert.

It was like they just snuck in, completely un-noticed.

Yeah, so if you can get over that suspension of disbelief the rest of the movie calls for even more, with punk-azz High School kids morphing into guerillas capable of tackling the whole damn Red Army.

Pretty stupid and absurd.    Yet if you're seeking a "message" hidden beneath this preposterous premise it's still not readily apparent. 

Some thought it pointed out the folly of unilateral disarmament caused by jelly-spine politicians who want to turn our national defense over to the UN.

Others felt it appealed to the American spirit of defiance in the face of threat.

And to a few it was all about the relationships between the kids.

MY RATING:  ** out of 5

I've seen low-budget UFO movies that have greater credibility.

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