Reds (1981)

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By Scott Ross

Warren Beatty’s huge, unwieldy paean to the radicals of the American left in the early part of the 20th century is energetic, intelligent, epic, rigorously fair, keenly observed and often exhilarating. It’s also occasionally mawkish, overfed, clichéd and goes on much too long. But it was a defining movie of my youth, and I still cherish its vigor, wit, essential honesty (especially if you overlook the real-life bisexuality of both Jack Reed and Louise Bryant) and underlying devotion to leftist principals.

The famous framing device of assorted “witnesses” of the era shows Beatty in a gently loving mood — they’re just about the most wonderful old people anyone’s ever put on film. With Diane Keaton, Maureen Stapleton (accent-less but otherwise superb as Emma Goldman), a veritable who’s-who of great American character actors, and Jack Nicholson at his most astonishingly sexy as the young Gene O’Neill.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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