Action Movie… Saturday?: Red Dawn (1984)

(Apologies for the lateness.)

It is time for Action Movie err… Saturday, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!

Title: Red Dawn
MPAA Rating: PG -13
Release: 1984
Genre: Action, Adventure
Starring: Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen, Jennifer Grey, Harry Dean Stanton, and Powers Boothe
Director: John Milius
Writer: John Milius, Kevin Reynolds
Distributor: MGM
Budget: N/A
Box Office: $39 Million

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: N/A

Gingersnaps Rating: Three Cookies!

The original Red Dawn is a movie that flirts with being an action movie, and then also flirts with being a straight out war movie. It can’t seem to throw itself wholeheartedly into either role so it tries being both. I can’t call it a war movie because it wasn’t based upon true events, but I can’t all out call in an action movie either because it is missing key elements that would make it an all out action movie. The good news it doesn’t fail completely at trying to be both.


During History class, while learning about the Mongols, Russian forces invade a small Colorado town landing in the varsity football field. Eight teenagers escape, stock up on supplies from a local gas station and go into the mountains where they live off the land. After a month, desperate for news, they head back to town to find they have been labelled terrorists and their families are political prisoners. They take up arms and fight back, using the name of the local football team and stealing their supplies from those they are fighting. Will they be able to hold out until spring and the promised reinforcements arrive or will they fall and perish trying to take back their country?


There is a certain amount of harshness to the premise behind this plot, a starkness to it, rough and unforgiving. The filming and the setting reflect that, harsh lighting, stark landscapes, and extreme simplicity with very little music. From an artistic standpoint, it was beautiful and set the tone of the movie. There would be no forgiveness or softness here. The truths presented would be ugly and unavoidable. For a movie flirting with being a war movie and trying to make a comment about the times when America was in the depths of the Cold War, it makes sense. Perhaps, this movie might have been scarier back in 1984 when the idea of the Soviets parachuting into towns and using nuclear weapons on cities was considered feasible.

The plot remains focused on the original eight characters, their conflicts over whether what they are  doing is right, and that of their enemies and how conflicted their enemy is over how his glorious revolution has changed into something he no longer recognizes. It is almost a character study in how war changes people in different ways, even people as young as the teenagers fighting their private battle to try and take back their home. Robert (C. Thomas Howell) in particular becomes embittered by hate and is even willing to kill a fellow Wolverine when Robert feels that his betrayal was unforgivable. Jed (Patrick Swayze) the leader, must keep a stoic front for his troops, while inwardly and privately he is breaking down over the loss of his family bonds. Matt (Charlie Sheen) seems the most cynical and realistic of the group.  Erika and Toni, the two females in the group, react in different ways to the situation. Erika goes quiet and it is implied, though not stated because this was 1984 and a PG-13 movie, that she was raped. She lashes out and forces the boys to treat her and Toni as one of them. It is even explicitly stated that the way Matt was trying to treat Erika was wrong. (One cookie.) The plot is straightforward enough, the loose ends tied up and we get to even see some of the front lines of the war. So, half a cookie each for plot and world building.

There are really no hand to hand or even weapon confrontations where the heroes meet the villains and a great epic battle takes place. There is a lot of fighting. It is the fighting of infantry, cold, bloody and at a distance. Brutal, but not entertaining, this is where the movie is a war movie and not an action movie.

The best part of the movie is after they rescue Lt. Col. Andrew “Andy” Tanner (Powers Boothe), an air force pilot who becomes the voice of experience for these teenagers and a mentor of sorts. He has the best lines in the entire movie. He is the object of a one sided crush from Erika. So due to her persistent questions, we do learn more about him. I do wish the movie had more of him and his sense of humor.

Toni got the honor of setting off the ‘what the fuck was that for’ gratuitous explosion. (Gives the girl a cookie.)

All in all, I don’t have a lot to say about this movie. Because there wasn’t a lot to react to in it. Though the plot was all tied up by the end and nothing unexpected was thrown at me with a half an hour left to go, I was left satisfied with the movie, but wanting something more. Mostly, it felt very flat and one note. Three Gingersnaps.


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