Man, the 1980s were great. We all love the 80s. Even people who weren’t born yet have a thing for 80s nostalgia. The best part is that now it’s the 80s all over again! Now millennials and zoomers will know the feeling of laying in bed at night wondering if that night will be the night ICBMs fly and we spend the next few weeks crapping blood as our teeth fall out from acute radiation poisoning. The good old days. So now that Russia being the bad guys is back in style, it’s finally time to take a look back at the excellent documentary Red Dawn.
Written and directed by the superb John Milius, Red Dawn was the ultimate daydream for a growing boy in the 1980s.
The story is set “sometime after next Thursday” when the USSR and Cuba gang up to invade the USA after a quick series of limited nuclear decapitation strikes. The commies get as far as the Rocky Mountains and into the small town of Calumet. Colorado. This is where we meet our cast.
As the commie paratroopers land in the middle of a school day, our heroes manage to escape into the local mountains with supplies one of the fathers gives them from his sporting goods store.
After a period of time, they sneak back into town to find out the Russians and Cubans have taken over and occupied the town turning it into a modern version of China. Since the boys escaped, their families were rounded up and killed or put in re-education camps. They find this out through various townsfolk, through sneaking to one of the camps, and from a rancher friend of the family who also sends his two granddaughters off with the boys to keep them safe.
After getting back into the mountains, and their new reality dawns on them, they decide to strike back. They start a resistance against the communist troops, calling themselves “Wolverines” after their high school sportsball team.
These youths aren’t modern-day kids, they are 80s kids. So it doesn’t take them long to become competent at ambushing and asymmetrical warfare. They learn more when they are joined by a shot-down airforce colonel, played by the excellent Powers Boothe (RIP).
The good times can’t last forever though. As the fight goes on they lose both the colonel and one of their own in a failed attempt to cross the front lines and get back to “Free America”.
Later, one of the group sneaks into town and gets caught. He is forced to swallow a tracking device. The Russian troops sent to track them down are quickly made into good commies but the traitor is discovered in the process. Executing him and a Russian prisoner drives morale even lower.
Eventually, the commies set another trap for the Wolverines around a food drop and an encounter with a gunship thins their numbers even more. Some are determined to cause a distraction to allow the surviving members to escape across the front lines into what is left of the USA, and this leads to one of the most moving scenes in the whole movie.
We see a final scene that explains that life did go on for the USA. A rock that was near the frontier of free America, where the Wolverines carved the names of their lost, is now called Partisan Rock and is a memorial with the inscription:
“In the early days of World War III, guerrillas – mostly children – placed the names of their lost upon this rock. They fought here alone and gave up their lives, so “that this nation shall not perish from the earth.”
Red Dawn is a masterpiece. It is one hell of a fun 80s war movie that actually seemed very plausible at the time. Milius is a gun guy, so his attention to detail on the Soviet weapons is impressive. Keep in mind that during the time there was no way to easily get hold of most of the Russian weapons depicted in Red Dawn. Tanks and vehicles were so well faked that the Department Of Defence wanted to know how Milius got examples for filming.
The cast is great. Patrick Swayze plays the eldest of the Wolverines with Charlie Sheen playing his younger, AIDS-free, brother.
C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Jennifer Grey, Power Boothe, Ben Johnson, Harry Dean Stanton. It is like a who’s who of 80s stars. What else do you want?
And where else do you get to see Lea Thompson murder Godless Ivans with an AK47? Red Dawn is an 80s stone-cold classic who’s like we probably will never see again.
The recent remake, however, is complete dogshit and to be avoided at all costs.