'Red Dawn': THR's 1984 Review
On Aug. 10, 1984, MGM/UA unveiled the war drama Red Dawn, featuring Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen, in theaters. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.
While John Milius' Red Dawn casts little constructive light on modern Anglo-Soviet relations, its rising at the height of our present Olympics-inspired patriotism represents a rather shrewd bit of capitalistic marketing strategy.
Reaction to the MGM/UA's release's depiction of a home-soil invasion repelled by teenage guerrillas may nonetheless prove a resounding nyet. It packs plenty of rabble-rousing ammunition, but its sloppy execution is unlikely to win any merit badges for marksmanship.
The place is Calumet, Colo. — Sleepysville, U.S.A. The film begins without prelude as an advance guard of Russian and Cuban paratroopers drop in on a history teacher's Genghis Khan lecture for some impromptu displays of barbarity. Pretty soon the commies have annihilated most of the town's citizenry, incarcerated the survivors in "reeducation camps" and — horror of horrors — booked continues showings of Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky at the local moviehouse.
It's left to a ragtag bunch of teenage refugees known as "The Wolverines" to pick up the fight for truth, justice and the American Way — a task they accomplish with implausible ease in a series of crudely directed confrontations climaxing in their flight from a commune of hyped-up Russian helicopters that look suspiciously like harbingers of "Red Thunder."
Caught in the scattershot crossfire of Milius and Kevin Reynolds' script — in Reynolds' original story, perhaps — is a fairly chilling portrait of America under siege. Yet Milus fails to make properly ironic use of cinematographer Ric Waite's shimmering landscapes and production designer Jackson De Govia's apple-pie facades, preferring to play the action as a modern-day '40s Resistance movie, full of grand heroic flourishes that border on the self-parodic. You can practically hear the bells tolling beneath Basil Poledouris' ornately orchestral score.
The kids themselves — Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen, Darren Dalton, Jennifer Grey, Brad Savage and Doug Toby — rarely go beyond expressions of granite-faced determination. Adults tend to have considerably shorter life spans, but there are compelling individual moments from Powers Boothe as a downed American flyer and Ron O'Neal as a Cuban officer sympathetic to the rebels' cause.
Best of all is the ever-watchable Harry Dean Stanton, who, in his single moment of common-man indignation as Swayze's father, almost single-handedly wipes away the cloud of muddled ideals that otherwise obscures this Red Dawn. — Kirk Ellis, originally published on Aug. 6, 1984