As certain factions speculate that the world is headed toward a new Cold War, Mark Farnsworth examines the artistic legacy of this phenomenon.
Director, screenwriter, and producer John Milius has always fancied himself as a latter day Hemingway, a warrior-poet on the board of directors of the NRA, fiercely opposed to gun control, and a consultant for the deceptively named military think tank – the Center for Creative Technology. A member of the 70s movie brats alongside Lucas, Spielberg, and Scorcese, Milius is the man responsible for the finer moments in “Jaws,” “Magnum Force,” and “Apocalypse Now.” His heroes are Patton, MacArthur, and Roosevelt; not your average right-wing American icons, but mavericks, tyrants, and visionary leaders.
The film critic David Thompson wrote of Milius as having, “earned and even provoked the press reputation of a strident, magnum-brandishing reactionary. But he is more than that. He is an anarchist, he is articulate, and he has an unshakable faith in human grandeur.” This would seem true from his directorial efforts, “Dillinger,” “Conan The Barbarian,” and “The Wind and the Lion.” Yet “Red Dawn” is a rather strange nut to crack.
“Red Dawn” is the ultimate ‘what if?’ movie. What if the Russians and their allies invaded American soil? On the surface it would seem a screaming advert for the survivalist cause. A jingoistic snarl at the Evil Empire: the cream of the 80s Brat Pack takes on Soviet-Bloc forces and wins! Of course it also asks the question much like the one asked in zombie movies-what would you do? Secretly most of us would love to be in that situation, wouldn’t we?
Take away the sub-standard effects (watch out for guns that don’t flash, squibs that don’t burst) and the rather poor editing, ignore the A-Team heroics, and you will find an interesting take on American politics.
The hawkish mentality of the States that allows its citizens to bear arms and wage war on the commie intruders is not just seen as its saving grace, but also the reason it gets invaded in the first place. The NRA member with the bumper sticker, ” You can have my gun when you prize it out of my cold, dead, hand,” has that very thing done by a Russian soldier, an ironic commentary on Regan’s position on the arms race and Star Wars.
The film tells us that NATO has dissolved, leaving America alone and vulnerable to attack. Only Britain remains faithful and is destroyed for doing so.
Perhaps an aggressive stance has set the scene for NATO to leave America to its fate, or else this is a backhanded swipe at the willingness and ability of mainland Europe to aid the American people in their hour of need (a case of life imitating art when applied to the War on Terror).
This then begs the question, as it does today, of America’s place in the world. Should the U.S. remain at the forefront of global politics or retreat into the isolationism of the pre-WW1 years? “Red Dawn’s” conflict is over a wheat shortage; quite prophetic considering the rapidly rising cost of food and oil and the precarious position of the last of the old Superpowers in all of this.
“Red Dawn” even evokes “The Battle of Algiers” in places. The entrance of the elite paratroopers and their leaders’ subsequent briefing is an homage to that great film. By evoking “Algiers’ ” imagery, Milius tries to adress the question of the freedom fighter/terrorist conundrum “Red Dawn” throws up. Unfortunately, the astute political commentary of “Algiers” is confused amongst “Red Dawn’s” B-movie sensibilities.
Still, the sight of C. Thomas Howell going toe-to-toe with a Russian helicopter gunship is something to behold, wish-fulfillment on a grand scale and a statement on heroism that Milius is so famous for.