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Paramount Home Video presents
Reds HD-DVD (1981)

"If you were mine, I wouldn't share you with anybody, or anything. It would be just you and me."
- Eugene O'Neill (Jack Nicholson)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: January 04, 2007

Stars: Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Maureen Stapleton
Other Stars: Edward Herrmann, Paul Sorvino, Jerzy Kozinski, Gene Hackman, George Plimpton, M. Emmet Walsh
Director: Warren Beatty

MPAA Rating: PG for (language, leftist tendencies)
Run Time: 03h:15m:04s
Release Date: November 07, 2006
UPC: 097361197647
Genre: epic

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A+B+A- B

DVD Review

The DVD Review and Extras Review are by Jon Danziger.

On some level, certainly, this movie seems like the height of folly. Warren Beatty cashed in just about all of his Hollywood chits on this one, and in the early days of the Reagan presidency, at the dawn of morning in America, made a film about America's most prominent Communist, an intimate of Lenin, of Trotsky, who died young, still fervently believing in the revolution. (It was a very strange sight indeed on Oscar night, to see Beatty stride to the podium to collect his statuette as the orchestra swelled with The Internationale.) On paper it seems almost like a recipe for career suicide: over three hours long, in obscure foreign locations, and brimming with ancient politics, and unpopular politics, at that. But you've got to set aside all those preconceptions, along with the facile (though perhaps not inaccurate) public image of Beatty at the time as Hollywood's most famous Lothario—trust the art, and not received wisdom about the artist, and you'll find that Reds is an epic of the highest order, smart, bracing, knowing, warm, unforgettable. It makes a well-meaning project similarly driven by star wattage like Good Night, and Good Luck. seem like a home movie in comparison. "Masterpiece" doesn't seem too grand a word when talking about a film as magnificent as this one.

Beatty tells the story of John Reed, dimly remembered in general, perhaps, now that the Cold War is over, but most famous for having written Ten Days That Shook the World, his first-hand account of the Russian Revolution. Reed was squarely from the Oregon bourgeoisie, and as we meet him he's already merrily biting the hand that feeds him, seeking out funding for his radical magazine, The Masses, so that he can continue to advocate for revolution. On a visit back home to Portland he meets Louise Bryant, a dentist's wife, with literary aspirations (she writes) and a hunger for experience—she becomes the great love of his life, accompanying him back to New York, and later to seemingly every corner of the globe. Their relationship is at the heart of the picture, and Reed's life, as portrayed here, is constantly fraught with the tensions brought on when the personal (Louise, and Establishment notions like happiness) crashes up against the political (the call of revolution).

But the story is told on a much bigger canvas, and Beatty is superb at conjuring up the world of Greenwich Village radicalism just before the Great War, the aura of aesthetic and personal liberties taken in Provincetown, and the grandeur and promise that came with the upending of Czarist Russia and the establishment of a People's Republic. Reds can be starry-eyed with wonder about the possibility of revolution, but it's certainly not naïve; Reed's idealism comes undone almost right from the jump, and you can see his anguish as he tries to reconcile his notions of a proletarian state with bread lines and deprivation and mass executions and tyranny.

It is filmmaking on an almost unimaginably grand scale, and, in these days of CGI, we shall not see its like again. And in the intervening quarter century, it's taken on a new relevance—for instance late in the story Reed is sent by Moscow to preach the gospel of revolution to the Islamic world, where he finds Uncle Sam burned in effigy and audiences responsive only to calls for holy war. In a sense the only appropriate comparisons are with the epic films of the past—it holds up favorably against pictures like Lawrence of Arabia and Seven Samurai, and makes subsequent big movies seem facile and boring.

Part of this no doubt is due to the astonishingly talented team of artists on both sides of the camera. Beatty's work is extraordinary in all respects—he's the film's star, director, producer, and co-screenwriter, and he's brought out the best in his collaborators. The work by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro is relentlessly stunning; when you consider that just two years before, he shot Apocalypse Now, it's hard even to fathom his achievements. Production designer Richard Sylbert's work was never better, and you could say the same for the cutting of Dede Allen, both the film's co-editor and its executive producer. Beatty even got Stephen Sondheim to write the music, which is haunting and lyrical without drawing too much attention to itself.

And the movie offers a galaxy of indelible performances, starting with Beatty's. Reed's commitment to the revolution never wanes, and yet he sees the truth that his comrades either don't or continue to deny—that love isn't an ideological formulation, that it cuts through the cant, that it's worth working for and fighting for. Diane Keaton finds the warmth and the good humor to go along with Louise's perseverance—she was just a couple of years past her iconic performance as Annie Hall, but there's no doubting that Louise is made of sterner stuff, that there's nothing la di da about her. Jack Nicholson smolders as Eugene O'Neill, and it's hard to look at the plays without thinking of this performance once you've seen the movie—he can be vicious and wounding, to himself most especially, but you come away remembering his commitment to friendship, and the fact that he almost single-handedly invented the modern American theater is a tiny little afterthought at best, in terms of Bryant's and Reed's story. Great actors show up in smaller parts, too—Paul Sorvino is a committed revolutionary who knocks heads with Reed, Gene Hackman is an editor who thinks it can all be settled over a couple of cocktails at the bar, and even George Plimpton is very good as a publisher who doesn't quite have the courage of his convictions to make a pass at Louise. And finally there is Maureen Stapleton, as Emma Goldman, in a multidimensional performance that almost defies description. She gets at Goldman's revolutionary fervor while retaining her good humor, she's a loyal friend who can be withering if she's crossed. She doesn't much cotton to Louise, taking her as another in a series of girlfriends distracting Reed from the seriousness of revolution—but when circumstances force her to reconsider Louise Bryant and recognize the steeliness of her character, Stapleton gives a smile that could light up the sky.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The film benefits quite substantially from the HD transfer, particularly in the details visible on the period wardrobe. Textures are excellent throughout, though shadow detail is quite limited (apparently by design). Black levels are a bit difficult to assess, since there are such large portions of the screen swathed in black most of the time, but at times they seem a little weak. Edge enhancement is absent for the most part, although there is some visible in a few scenes, such as a long shot of Reed operating a handcar to the Finnish border. Other than these few sequences, the result is very filmlike and satisfactory.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: In addition to the original mono, a DD+ 5.1 track is supplied. That remix is fairly subtle, though there are occasional use of surrounds in crowd scenes and other moments that call for a larger scale. The resulting soundstage isn't ear-catching, but it has a natural feeling that worksquite well. None of the audio dropouts reported on the standard DVD were observed here.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
7 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The film originally played with an intermission, and that's replicated in a way here, with the feature split up onto two discs. The extras are all on the second disc, seven featurettes yoked under the heading Witness to Reds (58m:16s). These are identical with those found on the standard DVD, and none are in HD format. Beatty has sat for new interview footage, despite saying that he "basically disapproves" of this sort of material on DVD—but he's convinced a bunch of pals to do the same, and also interviewed are Nicholson, Sorvino and Edward Herrmann (who plays Max Eastman); Storaro, Allen, Sondheim; and Barry Diller, the head of Paramount when the movie was produced. The Rising discusses the origin of the project, and Comrades is a look both at the cast and the issues Beatty encountered directing himself. Testimonials is about the interview footage included in the feature with those who knew Reed and Bryant personally—it's deeply poignant footage, these old people remembering events from years ago, and a lesser feature would probably wilt with the juxtaposition. (One feature that's not included but that would have been very welcome would be identifying the witnesses.) The March deals with the arduous shoot; Revolution, Parts 1 and 2 assess issues of historical accuracy and the movie's autobiographical resonances for Beatty. And finally Propaganda is about the film's reception during awards season, and its reputation over the years—Beatty relates that he couldn't make the sale at home and get his kids to watch it with him.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Reds, like its hero, is courageous almost to the point of foolhardiness—it's politically committed, culturally knowing, historically relevant, and almost unimaginably poignant. It's got a vibrancy that comes only from art of the first order, and features actors and filmmakers of the highest rank turning in some of their very best work. Rejoice, comrades: finally it's on HD-DVD, and it looks spectacular.


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