The Summer of '84: Red Dawn -

The Summer of '84

Mania Grade: C+

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  • Starring: Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson, Jennifer Grey, Brad Savage, Powers Boothe and Harry Dean Stanton
  • Written by: John Milius
  • Directed by: John Milius
  • Studio: MGM
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Run Time: 114 minutes
  • Series:

The Summer of '84: Red Dawn


By Rob Vaux     August 12, 2014

Red Dawn
© MGM/Robert Trate

 Looking back at Red Dawn, I find myself grappling with two distinct, seemingly opposing truths:

1)     Showing a genuine guerilla war in the heartland of America could be genuinely cool; and

2)     You still have to get the bad guys there in the first place.

#2 usually trumps #1 for me, as does a lot of the film’s other Hollywood non-sequiturs that detract from the ostensibly gritty realism it wants to convey. I love those moments where you sense what a resistance movement in an occupied America might actually look like, and in so doing start to understand what other such movements throughout history might have felt for those who lived through them. When they click, the nuts and bolts of the scenario become darkly magical, and I wanted so badly to see it break free. Unfortunately, the very plausibility that makes those moments work also demands answers to questions that the movie isn't up for.

To wit, if you're going to invade Colorado, you need a lot of stuff: tanks, guns, jack-booted thugs and the like. The only way to get there without first taking over a whole lot of other real estate is to use planes. Lots and lots of planes. So many planes in fact, that someone is bound to SEE THEM and raise the alarm long before they get to the Rockies. You have to swallow that "but" if you want to have any hope of enjoying Red Dawn – in which no one sees the planes coming and local high school students become heroic guerilla fighters in an occupied United States – and try as I might, I just can't.

There are plenty of other problems too, of course, though their ultimate entertainment value depends largely on your capacity for camp. Mustachioed Latin strongmen rub shoulders with sneering Russian Commies as they run roughshod over Main Street, U.S.A. The rampant jingoism arises in response to the nastiest stereotypes you can imagine… now rendered quaint and amusing by the passage of time. We snicker at the one-note villains, even as we cheer the clean-cut (and mostly white) young people periodically ambushing them in the mountains. And like the central whopper that kicks this whole thing off in the first place, they run straight up against the more interesting stuff that the movie wants desperately to share.

And when the film finds that stuff, oh but it's glorious. Director John Milius probably belongs in a rubber room somewhere, but when he gets behind the camera, you always get a wild ride. Beneath the sheer Boys' Own enthusiasm of it all (this film really makes occupation look like fun), he peppers in some nasty jolts reminding us of war’s terrible cost. Monolithic Soviet bad guys suddenly look a lot more human when you have look them in the eye before shooting them, and a sense of pervading doom accompanies these freedom fighters: the feeling that death is coming for all of them much sooner than they think. When Red Dawn hits that groove, it finds something unique. Milius had that touch – though it could be flawed sometimes – and no one else could deliver it quite like him.

Sadly, it gets too caught up in the zeitgeist of the moment to push past all the ridiculous parts, too concerned about waving the flag that covering up its glaring logic holes. The young cast sports a number of stars in the making – including Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen and Lea Thompson – but Milius reduces their personalities to one-note ciphers, preventing us from appreciating the slow loss of their humanity. Red Dawn knows what it wants to say; it just has a hard time saying it, and too often it goes for the easy score instead of really delving into the possibilities of the scenario. The effort is admirable and produces moments of violent beauty. Moments, however, do not a complete film make. 


Showing items 1 - 9 of 9
Dazzler 8/12/2014 3:43:56 AM

C ?  Right right...WOLVERINES!!!!!

Zarathud 8/12/2014 7:37:17 AM

It was explained in the movie that the air drop was just a spearhead to capture key positions.  The main forces came down through Alaska and up through Mexico, which had previously fallen to a Communist coup d'etat.  Given the sparse population in the midwest, it is not too far fetched to think that they could blitzkrieg up through to Colorado (assuming they could fight their way through Texas).

monkeyfoot 8/12/2014 8:08:39 AM

This was director/screenwriter John Milius big thing. He has described his viewpoint as being slightly to the right of Genghis Khan. He is all about the Take Care of Yourself, Be A REAL Man, Be Tough and Carry An Automatic Weapon, and No Government is Good Government. You can see it in all the movies he wrote and directed. He wrote one or two Dirty Harrys and Apocolypse Now. He directed and wrote Jeremiah Johnson,The Wind and The Lion, Conan and this one among others. All his films deal with being tough and never compromising your personal freedom. I don't personally agree with all his philosophy but it makes for interesting characters in his movies.

I think he has suffered a stroke and is no longer able to make movies.       

dnbritt 8/12/2014 9:06:44 AM

Not to mention the strategic nukes.  And the villains weren't caricatures, especially for the time.  Particularly the Cuban commander was clever and articulate, and recognized that the Wolverines were exactly what he was early in his life.  And C. Thomas Howell's descent into cold-blooded killing machine was handled extremely well.  I know it's hard not to sneer at anything patriotic.  And when you find yourself wondering what the resistance would look like in an occupied America, remember that it would look pretty pathetic without the second amendment.  The Japanese specifically decided against an invasion of mainland America in WW2 for fear of the armed citizenry.

HomestarRunner 8/12/2014 9:24:22 AM

Not bad for the first movie released with a rating of PG-13. Of course, any movie with Lea Thompson gets a thumbs up from me...even Howard the Duck.

TheSilentKiller 8/12/2014 9:54:56 AM

 Sorry Homestar - Even Lea cannot overcome feathered boobs.

monkeyfoot 8/12/2014 10:27:36 AM

The last time I looked at Howard the Duck was just to see Lea in that bedroom scene with Howard with her in her panties.

dough54321 8/12/2014 11:00:52 AM

This movie was awesome.  Watched it dozens of times as a teenager.  Even watched it again last year with my own teens before watching the remake.  It was still good.  B for me!

CaptAmerica04 8/14/2014 1:17:33 PM

Early warning stations in Hawaii are admitted to have been taken out, and our Pacific Coast, even back in the 80s, is a lot of space to guard and not that well protected.  Our biggest defense from invasion has always been the ocean.  If planes full of airborne units wanted to fly into the middle of the U.S., I actually kind of believe that they could, especially if they were coming up from Cuba by way of a Communist Mexico.  Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if it was possible TODAY.

This movie was not jingoistic, as our country was not being aggressive against others in the film - we were on the defensive.  It WAS very patriotic and very pro-America, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, Rob, though you often sound in your reviews like you consider it to be.  The 80s were very patriotic times, with the Cold War at every one's doorstep from the moment you woke up every day.  Patriotism is what helped people deal with the fear of it all.

This film was a coping mechanism, I think, as well as a look at how vulnerable we really were, how much we took for granted, all wrapped in the shell of an action movie.  Your hindsight seems to be a bit negatively inclined, and that subjective tone doesn't help the review.





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