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Movie Review

Red Dawn

MPAA Rating: PG-13-Rating (MPAA) for language and violence

Reviewed by: Brett Willis

Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
War Action Adventure Thriller Drama
1 hr. 54 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
August 10, 1984 (wide)
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Relevant Issues
Copyright, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios

invasion of American city by foreign army (paratroopers)

Russian Communists

guerilla fighters

FEAR, Anxiety and Worry—What does the Bible say? Answer

courage, bravery, self-sacrifice

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Featuring: Patrick SwayzeJed
Powers BootheLt. Col. Andrew ’Andy’ Tanner
Charlie SheenMatt
C. Thomas HowellRobert
Lea ThompsonErica
Darren Dalton … Daryl
Jennifer Grey … Toni
Brad Savage … Danny
Doug Toby … Aardvark
Ben Johnson … Mr. Mason
Harry Dean Stanton … Mr. Eckert
See all »
Director: John Milius
Producer: United Artists
Valkyrie Films
See all »
Distributor: MGM, UA

This film was later remade as “Red Dawn” (2012).

This fantasy about a Soviet-Cuban-Nicaraguan invasion of the U.S. took in $8 million in its opening (a respectable figure in 1984), tested the limits of the new PG-13 rating, and may have played a small part in President Reagan’s re-election.

Much of Latin America has fallen to Communism; the Greens party and other forces have sunk NATO; and the Soviets need our wheat fields, so one day they just decide to take them. When a peaceful September morning in Calumet, Colorado is shattered by a paratrooper invasion, twenty-something Jed Eckert (Patrick Swayze) scrambles to the high school in his pickup, rescues younger brother Matt (Charlie Sheen) and four of Matt’s friends, and takes them to the wilderness. They fare better than most such groups would, because Jed and Matt’s father (Harry Dean Stanton) was a survivalist who taught his boys to be self-reliant. The group is later joined by two girls, Erica and Toni (Lea Thompson and Jennifer Grey). They learn the details of the invasion through resistance network contacts, from a downed pilot, and by radio. Basically it’s the Soviet/Latin bloc on one side; the U.S., the British Empire and Communist China on the other side; and Western Europe sitting it out as neutral.

At first, the teens just try to survive in hiding; but they’re forced to kill some Russian soldiers in self-defense. The Latin commander, Bella (Ron O’Neal, “Superfly”) orders many of the teens’ parents shot in reprisal. The teens (taking their school mascot name, the Wolverines) then set ambushes in re-reprisal, and become a full-fledged resistance unit. For awhile they lead charmed lives (guerrillas usually do enjoy a favorable kill ratio when engaging traditional stand-up troops), but eventually all the heartaches of war come into play. Col. Bella, who had always been on the side of the insurgents, becomes uncomfortable with his role as an invader and actually sympathizes with the Wolverines.

Except for one scene of a mid-winter tank battle where the acting appears flat (maybe it was too cold to do retakes), all the characters are convincing. The slow transformation of Robert (C. Thomas Howell) from a typical high-school kid to a professional soldier is especially notable. And the producers certainly didn’t skimp on the special-effects budget.

Content warnings: the profanity is annoying, but realistic within its setting. The violence includes bullets-thudding-into-flesh effects and many buildings and vehicles being blown up. The sheer number of violent acts per minute is larger than in many R-rated war movies. Several fully-developed characters, who have the audience’s sympathy, are eventually killed. Depending on your prior political views, you’ll see the strong propaganda message as anything from “an upsetting, but important warning” to “ridiculous McCarthyite right-wing hokum.”

I agree with professional reviewers of this film who object to: the violence, the manipulative use of recurring themes and sympathy-grabbing, and the “patriotism” that’s actually a desire for revenge. But that’s what most war movies are about. I suspect bias when reviewers disparage this film, yet give high ratings to equally violent and manipulative films that carry anti-American themes or environmentalist messages. I’m biased too, but I admit it. Other things being equal, I’d prefer an anti-Communist film over a pro-Communist one.

There’s one acknowledgement of God in the film: the Wolverines pray over the graves of some fallen comrades, giving thanks that the dead can be children again. We now know that this imaginary war will never occur; the timeframe has passed, and the Soviet Union no longer exists. I’m glad that today’s teens have no memory of living under the Soviet nuclear threat that was a daily part of American life for my first 40 years. We weren’t automatically immune from takeover; we were spared by God’s grace and by the steadfast resistance of people who knew that Communism is a dead end.

On the same theme: “Dangerous Hours” (1919); “The Red Menace” (1949); “Invasion U.S.A.” (1952); “Red Nightmare” (1962); “Invasion U.S.A.” (ultraviolent Chuck Norris film, 1985); TV miniseries “Amerika” (Kris Kristofferson, 1987)

Viewer Comments
This movie is incredible. It is one of my all time favorites as it takes you along with the story of Jed and the Wolverines. The story presents an incredible storyline, and incredibly possible considering the time period. The movie presented the fear of the time period in a very real and personal way. Though I was born in the year that the movie takes place, I could almost see myself having to do the same things in their situation. In no way was the movie extremely offensive and, if you get past the first scene, which mainly just shows how brutal war can be, you’ll be fine the rest of the way. A great movie, Personal Top Five easily. My Ratings: [Average / 4½]
Johnny, age 16