Updated: Mar 3
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Warren Beatty, who co-wrote, directed, co-produced, and stars as American journalist John “Jack” Reed, who witnessed the 1917 Russian revolution. And, Diane Keaton plays writer Louise Bryant and Reed’s love interest.
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“REDS: 40TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION”
Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1981; PG for profanity; Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: Multi-part “Witness to REDS” featurette
AN EPIC film about the love-lives of two not very well-known American Communists may seem an unlikely candidate to have received the backing of a major movie studio, let alone nominations for 12 Oscars and winning three, including Best Director.
But “Reds” managed to do just that. Warren Beatty, who co-wrote, directed, co-produced, and starred in the three hours (and change) film, was enthralled by John “Jack” Reed, the journalist who wrote about having witnessed the 1917 Russian revolution in “Ten Days That Shook the World.” Beatty was also interested in Reed’s long-time, often rocky, relationship with a writer named Louise Bryant, played by Beatty’s then romantic partner, Diane Keaton. The plot follows the lovers as they come together and break up and come together again, finally ending up in Moscow in time for the Bolshevik takeover of the Russian government, and its aftermath.
The film is an impressive achievement, even 40 years on. It’s gorgeous to look at (without the aid of CGI), contains fantastic attention to period detail, great dialogue, and wonderful performances, including those of Jack Nicholson, as the famous writer (and one of Bryant’s lovers) Eugene O’Neill; and Maureen Stapleton (who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) as Emma Goldman. Other supporting roles include Edward Herrmann, Paul Sorvino, and writer Jerzy Kosinski. What adds to the authentic feeling of the film is the unusual device of occasional real-life “witnesses” to the era depicted in the story.
(1) A real-life witness says, “It isn’t everybody can be buried in the Kremlin, and he’s the only American. Born in Portland, Oregon. Now, isn’t that something?” (2) Louise Bryant and her first husband Paul Trullinger (Nicolas Coster). (3-5) Jack Reed and Bryant meet at the Portland Liberal Club and go back to her studio and talk into the morning.
Against a black background, various elderly people – some famous, some not – reminisce about Bryant and Reed, but also about what life was like during those early years of the 20th century. The result is a highly effective, far-reaching cinematic experience, but also the engaging microcosm of Reed and Bryant’s touching love story.
VIDEO This Paramount two-disc Blu-ray set – one disc for the film, the other for the extras – looks fantastic in its 4K restoration and 1080p transfer. Paramount also ported over the 4K/HDR10 and Dolby Vision version on digital platforms. A 4K disc would’ve been a great addition to the set.
The Blu-ray features consistent filmic grain, with images richly color-saturated and loaded with fine detail. Skin tones are natural, and contrast well-balanced, even in low-light scenes. There are no signs of dirt or scratches evident.
The 4K digital is toned slightly darker, but on Apple TV and Vudu the film grain has been scrubbed somewhat, which removed the finest added detail. The hue is also graded more toward the reddish side. We preferred the 1080p version over the 4K since the added resolution was lost. You can judge for yourself since the digital code upgrades to 4K on Apple.
(1) Bryant leaves her husband and joins Reed in New York City. (2) They meet up with his Greenwich Village political friends Emma Goldman played by Oscar winner Maureen Stapleton and Max Eastman played by Edward Herrmann. (3&4) The striking Oscar-winning cinematography from Vittorio Storaro accentuates the fragile relationship between Bryant and Reed. She says, “I’m just living in your margins.”
The six-channel DTS-HD soundtrack is also excellent, with very realistic effects, and clear dialogue. Optional subtitles are available. The score by the late Stephen Sondheim is well-modulated and meshes perfectly with the drama.
The only disappointment is the lack of recent bonus features. What is offered is the multi-part documentary, made for the 2006 DVD release. In it, Beatty notes that when he made “Reds,” “No one had tackled the history of the American left” for the screen. Beatty explains his fascination with Reed, who was considered a hero in Russia, and is “buried in the Kremlin wall.” Beatty says he found Reed’s relationship with Bryant, as well as the brevity of his life, dramatic. After spending years on an original treatment for the film, Beatty collaborated with British playwright Trevor Griffiths who, says Beatty, “was a strict Marxist who kept me in line with Reed’s beliefs.”
Beatty admits he relates to some things in Reed’s life, especially the conflict between art and political activism. Barry Diller, then CEO of Paramount, says he knew “Reds” wasn’t a “commercial project,” but a “project of mind and heart,” which he was willing to green-light. Other interviewees include veteran editor Dede Allen, London production manager Nigel Wooll, Edward Herrmann, Jerzy Kosinski’s widow, and Paul Sorvino, who credits being cast in “Reds” as having put him back in the movie business after almost two years out of it.
(1&2) While Jack Reed is on the Woodrow Wilson presidential campaign, Louise starts a relationship with writer Eugene O’Neill played by Jack Nicholson. (3) Jack speaks during the American Socialist Party Convention, while Boston delegate Louis Fraina (Paul Sorvino) listens. (4) Jack and Louise separate, but meet again on French soil covering World War I. (5) They arrive in Petrograd, Russia to report on the revolution.
Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (“Apocalypse Now,” “The Last Emperor”) who won an Oscar for his work on the film, discusses his initial difficulties getting used to Beatty’s style. And the recently deceased Stephen Sondheim recalls that Beatty told him he “doesn’t like film music to tell the audience what to feel.” He told Sondheim he wanted a love theme that was “romantic and slightly sad, which Sondheim ultimately based on the popular 19th-century song, “I Don’t Want to Play in Your Yard.”
Beatty says he expected “Reds” to win the Best Picture Oscar after he received Best Director – but “Chariots of Fire” was named instead. In his acceptance speech, Beatty told the audience he realized what a big deal it was that American capitalism supported the production of a film like “Reds.”
— Peggy Earle
(1) Jack attends a workers’ rally. (2&3) Louise returns to the U.S. and speaks in front of a Senate hearing on Bolshevik propaganda activities in America. (4-6) Jack is arrested on the Finland border as he tries to return to the U.S.
(1-3) Jack returns to Russia and is ordered by Karl Radek and Grigory Zinoviev of the Communist Party to attend the Congress of the Peoples of the East in Baku. During the five-day train trip, Jack encountered civil war battles. (4&5) He gets word that Louise has arrived in Moscow.
4K digital vs. Blu-ray comparsion
(1) The 4K digital picture on Apple TV has removed much of the natural film grain, which has reduced the extra resolution. (2) The Blu-ray is dialed more toward a yellow hue and the 4K on the red side.