After the height of the Cold War, Hollywood showcased a group of young talent in the invasion, war drama Red Dawn. Supposing that a collection of communist states have joined together. The film charts the birth of a resistance force formed from a high school American football team called the Wolverines. Based on the novel Ten Soldiers and co-written by John Milius, Red Dawn was considered the most violent film ever made on its release, but still became the 20th highest-grossing film of 1984.
During a normal day in Calumet, Colorado the town suddenly finds itself under attack from an army of parachutists. Jed Eckert (Patrick Swayze) who is driving through town, realises the danger and starts to drive around collecting teenagers from the local high school, including his brother Matt (Charlie Sheen). After taking refuge they realise that the USA is under attack from the Russian army and they band together to form a guerilla resistance unit, nicknamed the ˜Wolverines’ and start to fight back.
Wasting no time to get to the guerilla portion of the film, the audience are treated to a minutes description of the Soviets, Cubans and Nicaraguans joining forces and then after a few more minutes of normal small-town American life the parachutes appear. It’s a rather neat idea to just through the characters into turmoil immediately and it adds to the sensation of chaos and disorder. The violence is also prominent from the start with people gunned down indiscriminately and blood covering everyone involved, itself adding to the growing tension that this group of teenagers is fighting for their lives.
Sadly the lack of time spent developing the teenagers means that by about half way through you’re unsure exactly who is whom and thus the emotional impact of a death is lessened to almost none. Lucky then for Patrick Swayze’s Jed, who is given plenty of depth and development and much like the Wolverines, the audience follows his character in his journey to head of the freedom fighters. It’s no wonder he was being touted as a star on the rise after his performance here.
Also, ignoring the politics of the film, which is heavily right-leaning, there is a clear missed opportunity here. As the Wolverines won more encounters, surely they would have built up a support base and gown in size in the way resistance movements do. But only having a dozen or so indeterminable teenagers throughout reduces the reality and impact of the story-telling.
Clearly a rousing piece of pro-gun, anti-establishment, pro-Republican entertainment, Red Dawn does an impressive job of presenting the unlikely event of an invasion of the US. It’s nonsense fun, overtly patriotic and contains some decent individual scenes of tension and action. It is let down by its lack of characterisation and uneven final act, but as a throwaway 80s action drama it does its job. Wolverines!