Red Dawn (1984)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Red Dawn</strong> (1984)

(Second Viewing, On Cable TV, November 2018) Even by the ludicrous standards of 1980s action movies, Red Dawn is something special. After all, it’s built on nothing less a premise than an invasion of the United States by foreign forces, allowing ordinary high school students to turn into La Résistance. As far as power fantasies go, it’s a good one—there’s a chill at seeing concentration camps and executions on American soil that excuses nearly every excess in fighting back. Written and directed by John Milius, the premise makes no sense, but the execution manages to succeed in portraying the nuts and bolts of the story on the ground—the film never gets out of the vicinity of a small Colorado town, as it’s spectacularly invaded and taken over by foreign occupants. Our teenage protagonists are quickly driven to the countryside, where they plan and conduct semi-quixotic attacks against the invaders. There’s a lot of potential here to criticize American interventionism through ironic inversion and so … oh, who am I trying to fool? Of course Red Dawn is about American machismo writ large—even though the main antagonist has a surprising amount of character development, the film is about celebrating the militaristic values of fighting back, and no questioning of American military interventionism (which, if you look at the past sixty years, is about as bad as it gets from an international perspective) is allowed or even imaginable within the context of the film. The rah-rah-rah stuff gets tiresome after a while, especially since the film quickly backtracks to the heroic-sacrifice flag-waving rather than anything else. (The script-to-screen journey of the film is quite fascinating—read the Wikipedia article.) Seen from today, and easily ignoring the forgettable 2012 remake, Red Dawn seems like the fantasy of an ultra-right-wing cuckoo. It’s curiously less effective in the end stretch than it is at first—the film doesn’t seem to know where it’s going as the band of protagonists keeps dwindling, eventually settling for manly tears. And yet, even with all of this being said, it’s quite a movie—if it didn’t exist, there would be a hole in most 1980s film analyses of Reaganesque power fantasies.

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