The Magazine

Morning in America

Rewatching the movie Red Dawn, twenty years later.

Aug 16, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 46 • By MATTHEW REES and ROBERT SCHLESINGER
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A member of the Dutch resistance during World War II boasted on NPR that the film skillfully captured the spirit of an insurgent movement. But the movie's rhetoric is often overwrought: "All that hate's going to burn you up, kid," Powers Boothe tells C. Thomas Howell as the teen carves another notch in the stock of his AK-47. "It keeps me warm," snarls Howell in response. And much of the acting has the grace of Keanu Reeves at his most wooden. Shortly after a few of the Wolverines have fled Calumet and taken refuge in the nearby mountain range, they kill a buck for food, and then make Howell drink a cup of its blood. Once you drink the blood, they tell him, "there's gonna be something different about you." Indeed, Howell ends up the most radicalized of the group, and dies in a blaze of gunfire while defiantly screaming at his enemies, "WOLVERINES!"

Twenty years after the release of Red Dawn, the film takes on a slightly different hue: America's defenses have been brutally penetrated. And after watching the Wolverines boast of their ignorance of the Geneva Conventions as they prepare to execute an enemy prisoner, one can only wonder if perhaps a few of the soldiers serving in Abu Ghraib might have learned the wrong lesson from late-night viewings of the film.

BUT IN THE END, the story of Red Dawn is a story of the quest for freedom over totalitarian aggression--schlocky, but still powerful. And in the telling of this story, what emerges is history's most fiercely anti-Communist movie (an admittedly small category). There was clearly something to like about a movie that Pravda panned at the time as "a monstrous anti-Soviet concoction" that "poisons the audience's minds with the drug of anti-Communism." And there would, of course, have been only one appropriate response to such Kremlin-inspired belligerence: "Wolverines of the world, UNITE!"

Matthew Rees is a former staff writer at The Weekly Standard. Robert Schlesinger is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.