Red Dawn

Let me begin this rant by saying Red Dawn is the most unbelievable piece of nonsense to come out of Hollywood in a very long time. Films like Harry Potter are more believable. The beginning of the film asserts everything in Europe and Asia has fallen apart, that NATO’s extinct, and the United States is a lone super power. I’m not saying these things couldn’t happen, but Milius’ pro-American World War III film uses antiquated forms of warfare in a post-war world. With the advent of nuclear weapons, satellite imagery, and all the other military toys on the market (even back in the ‘80s), an old fashioned war (like the first two World Wars) can’t happen. Baudrillard wrote a few essay collected in a book called The Gulf War Did Not Take Place and discusses this. Wars in the classic sense are long gone, replaced by drone warfare and a plethora of other means. Bill Hicks’ description of war on Revelations sums it up best: “you need two armies to have a war.” Our wars don’t exist in this fashion.

For all of my criticism of Red Dawn, it’s a fun movie. Even if the plot is filled with holes, the sentiments held by many of the characters are valid. The loss of stability, loved ones, freedom are all portrayed wonderfully. When watching Red Dawn it’s easy to empathize with the protagonists, feel what they’re feeling. They’re complex characters, even if acting in a film that’s a pro-American pseudo-science fiction piece. The action scenes are well composed, relying on the anxiety of the situation to make them work. When they’re under fire it feels intense. The guerilla raids performed by the Wolverines are captivating – while you know they’re not necessarily going to do at every turn, there’s a certain sense of apprehension when they’re duking it out with Russians and Cubans. After all, they’re kids, forced into a war. In a sense they were drafted. One scene in particular comes to mind when after months of living in the mountains and attacking the occupying force in a long line of guerilla raids, the Wolverines come out looking for food. They find it, fallen off a supply truck, and are tracked to a long canyon where helicopters attack them, killing and wounding some. They’re desire for food (Cheerios, fruit, Coca-Cola) makes them vulnerable and even though C. Thomas Howell ends up shooting a helicopter with a rocket launcher and dies in a melodramatic last stand, heavy damage is sustained by the ragtag Wolverines. This part, with its location an arid looking desert canyon, reminds me of Afghanistan or Pakistan, where Islamic rebel groups hide from drones and other American attacks.

The film’s main characters, brothers Jed and Matt Eckert (Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen), come across in the beginning as jock douche bags until they’re placed into an impossible situation. At the beginning of the invasion they show that they’re just American kids, scared and not mature enough to deal with the situation they’re placed in. It reminds me of the current military conflicts America’s engaged in: filled with scared teenagers raised on MTV and packaged food. They’re young and inexperienced, thrown into a war they didn’t ask for or really know that much about. I stated earlier that Red Dawn is an enjoyable piece of Cold War propaganda, yet Milius’ control of the film takes it a little further, exploring the emotions captured during this kind of conflict. For all its silliness, Red Dawn carries a great deal of emotional baggage that caught me, making me feel for the characters and the poor situations they were in.

The film also features Lea Thompson (Back to the Future trilogy), Harry Dean Stanton (Jed and Matt’s father), Jennifer Grey (who was also in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with Sheen), and Powers Boothe (Deadwood). The final scene in Red Dawn is quite emotional in addition to being well shot and edited. I’m still amazed Milius was able to take a silly idea like Commies invading America and turn it into a heart wrenching war story about teenagers growing up in the middle of a combat zone. The touching last moments between Jed and Matt are quite depressing, which is amazing considering the two actors responsible for the scene. I don’t believe Swayze and Sheen to be incompetent actors, but when I think of Sheen I think of Men at Work and Swayze will always be associated with Point Break to me.


Here is the trailer

2 responses to “Red Dawn

  1. I’ve always felt that Red Dawn was a mediocre film that could have been a lot better, and should have been a lot better considering the talent behind it.

    The film is at least half an hour too short but it feels half an hour too long. On one hand, there is simply far too much material in the movie for its 2 hour running time, on the other, the structure of the film is repetitive as hell; action scene, reaction scene from Wolverines, reaction scene from Russians, repeat. The film drags.

    I would have loved to find out a bit more about the Wolverines themselves. As characters they are blank slates, they have little or no personality or past, I guess it’s up to the viewer to project their own. I didn’t, and when they started dropping like flies in the third act out found it really hard to care.

    You are right about the ending being compelling stuff. Personally, I couldn’t care less about the fates of the two brothers but the conclusion to the Cuban Colonel’s storyline was fantastic.

    It probably didn’t help that I watched Red Dawn after reading

    • I guess I can see what you say about the characters being blank slates and maybe I was just projecting my own experiences with the character stereotypes on them. However, I felt the characters embraced the all-American teenager of the ’80s, existing in small town America during the ending days of the Cold War. There are the jocks, the student body president, and so forth – all scared of the situation they’re thrown into. I did see depth in the two brothers though, especially when they visit their father (Stanton) at the drive-in/concentration camp. When you combine their experience hunting in the mountains with Stanton’s monologue about instilling strength, you can see the formations of the brothers – they’re you’re run of the mill Midwestern kids, taught to hunt, play football, and be “strong” men; no crying – ever.

      I thought the Cuban Colonel’s storyline was quite interesting also. The inference he was part of the Cuban Revolution and is uncomfortable with the imperialistic aims of the Russians shines through, especially at the end. He’s interested in national social and political change, not world domination. However, accepting Soviet assistance, especially in the early day of the Cuban Revolution and the Cuban Missile Crisis, has made them dependant on the strength of the Soviet Union to maintain their revolutionary government. By accepting that aid, it’s made the apprehensive Colonel responsible to the invading force and their aims. When he allows Swayze to escape at the end, followed by his saying, “via con dios,” he exhibits his feeling of solidarity with revolutionary ideals and his dissatisfaction with being part of a major invasion – a cog in the Soviet machine.

      I will check out that link. Thanks for the info. I also heard they’re remaking Red Dawn, which seems like a stupid idea. I like the original, but I still have to categorize it as science fiction (using, of course, Philip K. Dick’s definition of science fiction), since it’s storyline is absurd when looked at as attempted realism. While the reactions and emotions of the protagonists seem authentic, the idea of an invasion on American soil seems quite unlikely considering the military technology at our disposal nowadays. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but the terms outlined at the beginning of the film aren’t sufficient enough to explain a full scale invasion of America.

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