Following the critical and commercial success of Heaven Can Wait (1978), actor and filmmaker Warren Beatty looked to the history books for his next project. Back in the 1960’s, Beatty came across the life and story of journalist John Reed and even wrote a preliminary script about a potential project; it would about twelve years before he would find a suitable writing collaborator as well as backing from Paramount Pictures – albeit reluctantly on the part of Gulf + Western head Charles Bluhdorn – to finally bring Reds to the screen. The studio has given the movie a brand new Blu-ray release in time for the film’s 40th anniversary.
The Production: 4.5/5
In 1915 Portland, Oregon, suffragist/journalist Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) meets the idealistic yet radical journalist John “Jack” Reed (Warren Beatty) at a lecture. Following an all night interview on international politics, Louise becomes more intrigued and follows Reed to New York City, where she falls in with the group of fellow activists and artists, including the famed playwright Eugene O’Neill (Jack Nicholson) and anarchist author Emma Goldman (Maureen Stapleton). Soon, the passion to change the world ignites something more inside between Louise and John and the budding romance – albeit fraught with differences – will take them into Europe, where they will both bear witness and try to take part of one of the most significant events of the 20th Century: the Russian Revolution.
For his second directorial effort – and first time going solo – Warren Beatty turned out a gem in Reds. Approaching the subject matter in an epic scope, Beatty shows a great attention to detail for the time period in which John Reed and Louise Bryant tried to spread their beliefs to fellow Americans and beyond. Further buttressing the dramatization is the interviews with the real life “witnesses” peppered throughout the film to give some context to Reed and Bryant’s life. Yet best of all, Beatty never loses the viewer’s interest throughout, even in the slower moments of the film, giving us a full and vivid picture of early 20th Century America as well as the conflicts between political beliefs that still feels prescient even today. In short, Reds is a crowning achievement for its director/producer/writing/star and also one of the best epic movies Hollywood ever turned out.
While he would win his only competitive Oscar for Best Director here (he was also nominated for Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture), Warren Beatty also turned in one of his best performances as the devoted radical journalist John Reed; Diane Keaton would earn a Best Actress Oscar nod for an impressive turn as Louise Bryant, whose political awakening also leads her to falling in love with John. Reuniting with Beatty for the first time since The Fortune (1975), Jack Nicholson makes for an amazing Eugene O’Neill; he would earn an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his work here. As the fiery Emma Goldman, Maureen Stapleton steals every scene she’s in from her co-stars; she truly deserved her Best Supporting Actress Oscar here. Rounding out the cast here are Edward Herrmann as fellow radical Max Eastman, novelist Jerzy Kosinski as Bolshevik leader Grigory Zinoviev (who becomes Reed’s chief adversary in the second half of the film), Paul Sorvino as intellectual Louis C. Fraina, William Daniels as politician Julius Gerber, M. Emmet Walsh as the Liberal Club speaker, Ian Wolfe and Bessie Love as the Partlows, Dolph Sweet as IWW leader Big Bill Haywood and an uncredited Gene Hackman as Reed’s journalist colleague Pete; among the more than two dozen “witnesses” interviewed for the movie include ACLU founder Roger Nash Baldwin, congressman Hamilton Fish, entertainer George Jessel, novelist Henry Miller, journalist Adela St. Rogers Johns, artist Hugo Gellert, journalist George Seldes and novelist Rebecca West.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original 1:85: aspect ratio, taken from a brand new HD transfer from the original camera negative. Film grain is organic, with fine details and color palette given a faithful representation; there’s little to no instances of issues like scratches, dirt, dust or tears present here. This release is by far the best the movie will ever look on home video and easily surpasses the previous Blu-ray release of the movie.
There are two audio options on this release: a Dolby Digital mono track and a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track. Both options have strong and clear dialogue with faithful representations extended to the sound mix and Stephen Sondheim’s score (with additional contributions by Dave Grusin). There’s little to no problems like distortion, crackling or hissing present here, which means that this release is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video.
Special Features: 3.5/5
Witness to Reds (1:07:32) – Carried over from the previous DVD and Blu-ray releases, this feature length documentary – playable as a whole or in seven separate parts – goes over the production history of the movie from filming to release. Among those interviewed include director/producer/writer/actor Warren Beatty, former Paramount CEO Barry Diller, actors Jack Nicholson, Paul Sorvino, Edward Herrmann, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, film editors Craig McKay and Dede Allen and composer Stephen Sondheim, just to name a few.
2006 DVD Trailer (1:21)
Earning both critical praise as well as 3 Oscars, Reds is an impressive epic that’s absorbing and intelligent in depicting the radicals trying to change the world in the early 20th Century. Paramount has likely delivered the best home video release of the movie with a terrific HD transfer as well as carrying over the insightful and informative feature length documentary from previous DVD and Blu-ray releases. Very highly recommended and absolutely worth upgrading from said previous releases.
Amazon.com: Reds : Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Edward Herrmann, Jerzy Kosinski, Jack Nicholson, Paul Sorvino, Maureen Stapleton, Nicolas Coster, M. Emmet Walsh, Bessie Love, Warren Beatty: Movies & TV
This review is dedicated to the memory of composer Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021).
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