Red Dawn (1984) – John Milius

The final recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of Dr. Strangelove is John Milius’ dark and violent film, Red Dawn.

With an all-star cast including Patrick Swayze, Lea Thompson, C. Thomas Howell, Charlie Sheen, Jennifer Grey, Powers Boothe and Harry Dean Stanton, the film chronicles an invasion of America by Soviet forces when the political and economical landscape meets with disaster.

We follow a story, penned by Milius and Kevin Reynolds, set in the mid-west, that sees a group of youngsters, late teens early twenties, taking the fight to the invading Soviets.

The film features a stunning sequence minutes into the movie that sees paratroopers descending on on the town, specifically, the high school some of our characters are attending.

Taking to the mountains, they survive, they hunt, and they exact their toll on the invaders, with cries of “Wolverines!” – their high school football team echoing across the landscape.

The film is dark, terrifying, and violent, and when I first saw it back in 84 (I was 12 going on 13) and found the story absolutely fascinating, and it ticked that huge box of being fantasy fulfilment of us vs. the evil Russkies. My friends and I talked about this one a lot!

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We wondered what we would do (even living on a small island) or what it would be like in North America were we there when something like this happened. And now, decades later, wondering what it would be like now (sorry I won’t look at the remake).

Revisiting it now, I see more than the good guys fighting the bad guys film that once I saw. It’s a survivalist film, making commentary on fears that we held in the 80s as well as that American grit – that when push comes to shove, they will fight the good fight, and make the sacrifices needed for the freedom and rights they believe in.

Each character has their arc, and it plays out against the mountains and plains of middle-America turned war zone. Yes, it was touted as an action film at the time, but the way it plays, the way it tells its story, it’s more of a war thriller.

Of course there are losses and sacrifices made throughout the film, and that is the cost of the freedoms that the American nation was founded on.

The film is by terms cynical and clinical in its violence and storytelling and the young cast is perfectly suited to the story they find themselves in.

There are no big action sequences, despite the amount of violence in the film, instead there are sequences of war, that are quick, brutal, and jarring as these young people forge themselves into weapons of the American spirit.

A surprisingly solid film, that for me has stood the test of time.

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