What movie was that...?

14 June 2010

Red Dawn

directed by John Milius

The verdict is out on how much justice Dan Bradley’s (stunt coordinator extraordinaire for, among others, Lawnmower Man and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) is going to do the original, but the important thing here is to remember that, no matter how badass (or not) the remake is, it has to answer to the master. While there are many other ill-conceived Hollywood rehashes occurring at the moment (the most glaring being the abomination that is The Karate Kid, and most intriguing being Tony Scott’s The Warriors), they all have these original (however flawed they may be) filmic treasures to thank for their good fortune of having fodder to desecrate. The John Milius fear crop that is Red Dawn was harvested in a particular time in our nation’s psyche, existing in the same world as the Alan Moore classic graphic novel, Watchmen; a time when the threat of global conflict seemed absolutely imminent. In Moore’s universe, the world had Dr. Manhattan as a nuclear deterrent. In Red Dawn, the US of A has Jed (Patrick Swayze) and his squadron of teenage soldiers ready to kick some Commie ass. Yes, there are a lot of clichés in the film and yes, there are things in the film that could make even clichés roll their eyes, but there are a lot of credibly complex things going on under the surface as well, which is a credit to the writing. Take the character of Erica (expertly played by Lea Thompson), a girl who speaks very little throughout the film, yet manages to convey volumes about her experience in the WWIII of Red Dawn. Her past is alluded to by her grandfather (note the use of the word “tried” when he opens the trap door hatch, as if he attempts to rewrite history, or maybe just fool himself), and again when Matt (a stoic and powerful Charlie Sheen) asks her “what’s up your ass?” when she refuses to do the dishes, then Erica threatens to actually kill Matt if he ever talk to her like that again. He seems confused, but Toni (Jennifer Grey is always wonderful) explains to him that what he said “was wrong.” Another fine example of good writing takes the form of C. Thomas Howell in the film (who plays Robert), a boy who, early on in the film, barely knows what he is doing in the wilderness, yet by the end mutates into a one man death squad unafraid to kill the enemy or do some local dirty work. The minute the deer blood runs from the corners of his mouth, a transformation occurs that isn’t overly explained, and those are the kinds of filmic transformations I love the most. Mr. Harry Dean Stanton delivers an amazing performance in a tiny role, and hats off to Milius for giving at least one of the Commies a soul. Red Dawn is a time capsule film in that it expresses the anxiety’s that America may have sincerely felt once upon a time in the Midwest, and it’s a quaint reminder of the power of fear as propaganda. Republicans were probably chomping at the bit to get this gem out in theatres, and Reagan was probably quoting it in his Star Wars rally speeches. I joke, but don’t worry, folks, I’m no Commie. My blood comes out actually singing the Star Spangled Banner.

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