What a different world it was 25 years ago. I’m reliably informed that some people lived under the impression that the events in the opening of Red Dawn, where a combined communist force suddenly invades America, were a very real possibility. How much things have changed. By the time I was politically aware the iron curtain had long since collapsed and along with it the ideological conflict of East Vs West. Had I watched it at the time I might have been inspired by the whole affair and bought into the deeply binary worldview. But I didn’t watch it then, I watched it in 2009 and as a result I almost vomited. What a hulking shit-stain of a film this is. Red Dawn is a scathing blast of propaganda straight from director John Milius, writer of the brilliant USS Indianapolis speech from Jaws. It should come as no surprise to anyone who has managed to see five minutes of Red Dawn that Milius is on the board of directors for the NRA (National Rifle Association). There’s more pro-gun propaganda in this than there is in Charlton Heston’s library. The camera even lingers over a bumper sticker bearing the infamous “from my cold dead hands” epitaph. Factor in some fulsome praise from fans of the film as diverse as Reagan’s Secretary of Defence Alexander Haig and Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh and you have a very clearly drawn line.
Where to begin then, the dialogue is stodgy and delivered with sub-Dawsons Creek sincerity by the young cast, the action is flat and uninteresting, there are plot-holes and pacing issues. It’s really just a poorly made film. Whatever favour is curried by the shock opening rapidly disappears under the weight of the flaws. Perhaps the biggest committed here is that it manages to be boring. It shouldn’t be but it is. The story rambles on without making any substantial point other than some broadly drawn stuff about war being a bit tough and how brilliant it is to have guns. Milius eschews any of the interesting shots of an American town in the grip of a communist regime in order to spend as much time as possible recreating the American frontier myth in the forest, but with more guns. The cast is hugely disappointing, the appearance of Harry Dean Stanton always fills me with hope but he seemed to be bored or embarrassed as he drawled out his pitiful lines. Similarly Powers Boothe turns up to chew some scenery but proceeds to behave like the most comically inept soldier since Sgt. Bilko. The kids can’t be faulted too much, apart from C. Thomas Howell is scarcely believable as a psychopath, but they’re young and they would go on to better for the large part. I can’t find anything positive to say about it at all aside from mentioning my wife’s surprise at seeing Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze on screen in a film whilst not having the time of their life.
I suppose if it has a place it is as an addendum to the Sylvester Stallone canon of the 80s as the embodiment of Reagan era politics in celluloid, but I’d watch Rocky IV over this stodgy pile of right-wing turds any day of the week.