• With just the handsomeness of the production and the fine writing and acting throughout, Warren Beatty’s Reds would have been one of the stronger films of 1981. However, Beatty, brilliantly, chose to weave in interviews those who knew John Reed (played by Beatty himself) and Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton). These “witnesses” help create a fabulous formal structure (one that inspired Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally). There is a simple but beautiful consistency to the visual design of their sections of the film.
  • This is Beatty’s most ambitious project behind the camera. There is all this talk about Heaven’s Gate (Cimino, 1980) ending Hollywood’s artistically ambitious unchecked budget type film- but this was shot over nearly 250 days (Finland standing in for Russia, Spain used as well). Beatty uses tons (literally) of film. He would do take after take -there are great stories out there about Nicholson and Hackman complaining, 30, 50, 80, 100 takes of a scene. I think it must have been to capture good performances because the visual arrangements for most of the scenes are not overly complex/elaborate. It is the last film he would direct of the 1980s and he would only star in one more (Ishtar).
  • Talk about collaborators: Reds has Vittorio Storaro (The Conformist, Apocalypse Now) as cinematographer and the great Stephen Sondheim (also would work with Beatty on Dick Tracy nearly a decade later) with the music

The sections with the witnesses are woven in exquisitely– helping give relief to the nearly 200-minute running time of the story. Storaro and Beatty shoot the interviewees off center to the right with a simple, but elegant background

Some of them are funny “I like baseball”- and they often contradict each other. I think this is sly statement by Beatty on the nature of truth and history.

  • This is the film that stopped Keaton’s collaborations with Woody for a number of years after Manhattan and helped launch the Mia Farrow era.
  • The acting ensemble gathered for Reds is astounding. This is one of the best single performances from both Keaton and Beatty as the leads. Beatty was able to wrangle Jack Nicholson and Gene Hackman (two of the biggest stars on the planet in 1981) into smaller roles. Both had worked with Beatty in the past of course. Paul Sorvino is here, Emmett Walsh, Maureen Stapleton and George Plimpton. Stapleton actually won an Oscar, but after Beatty and Keaton (and perhaps even greater than Beatty) it is Nicholson’s work as Eugene O’Neill that shines the brightest. First off, as Beatty himself admitted, it is believable that Nicholson could come along and steal a girl from Warren Beatty—and, more importantly, Jack plays O’Neill with piercing confidence.

Nicholson as Eugene O’Neill

  • The blowup fight between Beatty’s Reed and Keaton’s Bryant at the 40-minute mark is worth the price of a ticket alone. This is the “taken seriously” fight.

The Provincetown beach sequences are some of the most attractive in the film. They have this Wimbledon (everyone in white) meets Pottery Barn polish to it.

At the 46-minute mark Keaton is in a well-captured cinematic painting as she sits on a piece of wood, wearing a hat in profile on the beach.

Here is another jaw-dropper– but this is not The Conformist. There are long stretches where it is just the superior acting and writing carrying the film. 

At the 98-minuate mark though, while Beatty’s Reed and Keaton’s Bryant are walking through the doorway to a factory in Russia before Reed’s impromptu speech, Beatty delivers one of the great frames of 1981- a dazzling shot.

  • A silhouette kiss shot just before the intermission – this certainly has to be one of the last theatrical releases to have an intermission.
  • Beatty, even when playing a genius, is so good at playing a buffoon—he hits his head on the chandelier over and over- burns dinner in the kitchen.
  • The screenplay is strong even if the writing never knocks you off your feet. There is an admirable refusal to pander that we do not often see in big budget epics (which is 100% what this is). This is a film about diplomacy and bureaucracy (along with the obvious romance with a historical backdrop). This is Gone With the Wind or Doctor Zhivago in that regard—many locations, extras, budget and running time. And the duration matters when it comes to their love story. When Beatty finally delivers the train station scene these two characters have lived a full life together.
  • A heavyweight Keaton performance, temperamental.
  • The final doorway shot at the death bed— a great frame and Beatty knows it and he holds it.
  • A Must-See film- top five of the year quality