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Red Dawn (1984)

20 March 2003 by Gnoll 3 Comments


1984, dir. John Milius

114 min. Rated PG-13.
Starring: Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen.

Review by Jay “Me So” Hornsby


“In our time, no foreign army has ever occupied American soil…until now.”

Just another boring morning in history class. The teacher is droning on and on about the Mongols. When suddenly, soldiers parachute from the sky. The teacher walks outside to see what’s going on. And is promptly gunned down in front of the entire student body.

If there’s a better opening scene in cinematic history, I don’t know of it. Red Dawn is a history-making classic with a boatload of future stars. This movie was released amid the wave of nationalism in the Reagan/Cold War era of the early 80s. After it’s release, was slammed by some who saw it as propaganda promoting how evil an enemy Russia was (and Alexander Haig’s praise of the film didn’t do much to dispel that). But, I am here to contend that Red Dawn is a film much deeper and profound than that.

The story is simple enough and I won’t bore you with details. World War III starts as the ole US of A is invaded by Russian and Cuban troops. Those damn commies decide that the best military strategy is to jump in right in the middle of the country and set up the main military command post in Nowhere, Colorado. We meet our main characters, the brothers Jed and Matt (Patrick Swayze of ‘Roadhouse’ fame and Charlie Sheen of ‘Men at Work’ fame) and a bunch of their friends (including C. Thomas Howell of, well, ‘Soul Man’ fame), as they manage to escape the initial attack at school. I have to say it’s going to be hard for me not to point out some of the lack of common sense in this movie. I will try to refrain as much as possible but when you are being chased by a tank, don’t park your pick-up in the middle of a field only to hide behind it. You see, it makes for a pretty convenient target when you’re the only thing in an EMPTY fricking field. Especially if your “plan” involves you getting right back in said truck, to drive away moments later. So (despite themselves) they manage to escape, and make a run for Soul Man’s dad’s gas station where they load up on supplies. Luckily, it’s the type of gas station that stocks more food than my neighborhood Kroger, not to mention tents, sleeping bags, lanterns, bow & arrows, explosives, and guns. Lots of guns. They load up the truck move to Beverly, er, the mountains right outside of town.

After a few nights of roughing it on the mountain, Jed, Matt, and Soul Man head back into town. The sleepy small mountain town they once knew has been transformed into a war zone complete with a concentration camp where the “problem” citizens are taken (not to mention the obligatory over turned cars and newspapers blowing through the empty streets). Once in town, they find out that they’re all wanted and the commies are looking for them (although they still manage to walk around all day without anyone seeming to notice). On the way back to the mountains they manage to pick up a couple of sisters (Lea Thompson of ‘Back to the Future’ fame and Jennifer Grey of ‘Dirty Dancing’ fame).

At this point in the film, the filmmakers just seared their movie into the consciousness of jr. high males across the country. Not only do you have a Die Hard situation with a bunch of commies to kill, but now you’re one upping it by having beautiful women along side you. Killing and girls were all I thought about in jr. high school (well, comics too but they had both killing and girls). There wasn’t a day that went by that I wasn’t daydreaming about some bastards (whether they be commie soldiers, ninjas, or plain ole terrorists) bursting through the classroom door, guns a blazing, killing my fellow students. I, of coarse, would disarm him with my karate skills honed from watching too many action movies. Then grab the hot girl (the only other survivor in the class) and go hide in the school as we alternate between having sex and killing the other soldiers/ninjas/terrorists.

Now not to get off on too much of a side note here, but do you have any girls from your jr. high/ high school time that you think back on, have on “file” so to speak? If so, do you “age” it so the girls are as old as you are now? Or is it still the idealized image you’ve had in your head for the past 14 years? When you think about the first pair of boobs you saw, are they 16 years old or do you make them 26? Is there not something a little creepy with fantasizing about the babysitter you saw naked when you were 12 (who at the time was a full-fledged woman at the old age of 17)? Because now, being a 26 year old, it seems just plain wrong. I dunno. A rant for another day I guess. Back to killing commies.

Over the next few months, these frightened teens become a hard-edged guerilla military force. They adopt the school mascot and call themselves the Wolverines (and tend to yell it emphatically causing some unintentionally funny moments when the seriousness is broken by Charlie Sheen yelling “WOOLLVERIIINESSSS!!!!!”). The war continues and the Wolverines do their patriotic duty as they attack and kill those pesky commies.

And now I have to point out some obvious lack of forethought and planning. When you save 15 people from being executed, have an escape plan. You are still in the middle of hostile territory many miles (and mountains) away from New America (the “free” part if the US). Don’t just save them and then run away leaving them to scramble for themselves. Where did these newly freed people go? They couldn’t just go back to town, they would’ve been shot on sight. Did they try and make it to friendly territory even though they had no supplies? I can just see these poor people dying on top of some mountain having to resort to cannibalism to survive. I bet that first guy to get eaten probably wished he would’ve stayed and taken a bullet to the temple.

As the war progresses, a US fighter pilot (Powers Boothe) crashes and joins the group. He’s a sympathetic character who has lost his wife and kids in the initial attack and forms somewhat of a “can I call you daddy?” romance with Jennifer Grey. He brings some street cred to the Wolverines and helps them plan out their next few missions.

As the war (and movie) comes toward a close, more people die. Let me rephrase that, lots and lots more people die. Make no mistake; Red Dawn is a serious movie. It made history as it was the first movie to receive a PG-13 rating. At the time, there was a huge public outcry against the violence in this movie. It was actually called “the most violent movie on record” by the National Coalition on Television Violence. Today, that statement seems crazy as the movie is pretty tame (even by TNT standards). Most of the violence is either off-screen or not bloody. Having said that, Red Dawn seriously dealt with many aspects of war, main character deaths, the implied anal rape of Lea Thompson, betrayal by a friend, that weird “old enough to be your dad’s older brother” relationship, and even more main character deaths.

The one thing that stands out about Red Dawn is the characterization. For a movie to succeed and endear itself to film lovers everywhere, it not only needs a good premise (which it had) but characters you care for. Unlike many 80s action movies, Red Dawn had sympathetic characters that actually grew and changed through the course of the film. Even the Cuban General, the main “bad guy” of the movie, starts to doubt his place in the war as he watches innocent civilians and young soldiers dying. Once you care for the characters, it actually matters when one of them is killed (and killed and killed and killed).

Red Dawn is still one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s escapism at its best. If you have never seen it or haven’t seen it since the 80s, I highly recommend picking it up again. You won’t be disappointed.

Anyway, I got some commie ninja terrorists to kill. I’ll end with the last line in the movie.

“They fought here alone and gave up their lives, ‘so this nation shall not perish from the earth”.


  • Mary said:

    Was this movie true??? I heard it was but never heard that it actually was.

  • Fletcher said:

    They don’t head back into town until a few months into their stay in the wild, ignoramus. Not a few nights. Newho, I liked the positive things you said, but the manner in which you transitioned into ragging on it was poorly done. I still enjoyed reading this review, but it wasn’t well formatted man.

  • The Dude said:

    “Was this movie true???” -Mary
    Obviously, you’re a fucking idiot.

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