Reds is a 1981 American epic film that was co-written, produced, directed by and starred Warren Beatty. It centers on the life and career of John Reed, the revolutionary communist, journalist, and writer who chronicled the Russian Revolution in his book Ten Days that Shook the World. Beatty stars in the lead role alongside Diane Keaton, who plays Reed's wife Louise Bryant, and Jack Nicholson as Eugene O'Neill. Stephen Sondheim composed music for the film.The first half of the film chronicles the early life of Reed and Bryant, their often troubling relationship, and their experiences reporting on the Communist revolution in Russia. The second part of the film takes place shortly after the publication of Ten Days. Inspired by the idealism of the Revolution, Reed attempts to bring the spirit of Communism to the United States, because he is disillusioned with the policies imposed upon Communist Russia by Grigory Zinoviev and the Bolsheviks.The most significant aspect of the film is a documentary enhancement – interviews with a number of venerable "witnesses", who may have known Reed, whose recollections of the period help to set the scene, bridge transitions and preserve a touching human perspective of these times. To gain perspective on the lives of Reed and Bryant, Beatty began filming the "witnesses" as early as 1971. Some of them are very well known, others less so. It is also noted, on a side note that this movie was released as as a sympathetic portrait of a well-known American communist (though it does point out Reed's flaws instead of bordering on Historical Hero Upgrade) in the very same year that Republican Ronald Reagan became president.The film was released on December 4, 1981 to critical acclaim. Despite its political subject matter and limited promotion (mostly by Beatty himself), the film became the tenth highest grossing picture of 1981, taking in $50,000,000 in the United States.Beatty won the Academy Award for Best Director for the film. Reds was also nominated for Best Picture, but lost to Chariots of Fire. Beatty and Diane Keaton were nominated for Best Actor and Best Actress, but lost to Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn in On Golden Pond.In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "Ten Top Ten" – the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres – after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Reds was acknowledged as the ninth best film in the epic genre.
- Bad Bad Acting: An example of this with Louise's terrible acting in one of Eugene O'Neill's plays. In general, Diane Keaton, who plays Louise, is the master of this trope.
- California Doubling: The film was mainly shot in England, where none of it takes place. As a result of Beatty being denied permission to film in the U.S.S.R., the Russia scenes were shot in Finland, with Helsinki doubling for Petrograd (present-day St. Petersburg). The scenes set in Baku, Azerbaijan, were shot in Spain.
- Ethical Slut: Louise Bryant becomes one after Reed turns her on to his free love philosophy. For a time, she becomes kind of fundamentalist about it, and Eugene O'Neill makes fun of her about it during their affair. Both she and Jack have trouble remaining true to their slut-ethics over the course of the film, with their jealousy periodically causing one or the other to break off their relationship.
- Foreign Correspondent: John Reed, radical left-wing journalist, who goes to Russia to cover Red October and the Russian Civil War.
- Full-Circle Revolution: Hinted at towards the end. "If Bolshevism means the peasants taking the land, the workers taking the factories, then Russia's one place where there is no Bolshevism," says anarchist Emma Goldman. Reed, however, maintains faith in the Bolshevik cause to the end, pointing out that the absence of stable institutions in Russia and the poor quality of education of the peasants would mean that there would need to be centralization by the Revolutionary elite in order to bring any sort of modernisation.
- Intermission: Once considered necessary for films that topped three hours.
- Love Triangle: A messy one between Reed, Bryant, and O'Neill.
- Real Person Cameo: Sort of. Oleg Kerensky plays his own grandfather, Alexander Kerensky, briefly the leader of democratic Russia in 1917.
- Red October: The initial Bolshevik overthrow of the Kerensky government is portrayed very positively, complete with a soaring chorus singing "The Internationale" in Russian. Louise contrasts the Bolsheviks fulfilling their promise to get Russia out of the war with Woodrow Wilson's broken campaign promise to keep the U.S. out of the war. Once the Bolsheviks are in power, however, it gets slightly complicated in that Reed is critical of the Soviet bureaucracy rewriting his speeches, replacing his high-minded ideals with political expediency. Despite this he defends the events and actions to Emma Goldman noting that they have an incredible task and responsibility.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: The movie does explain very well why many radicals, initially, looked at the Russian Revolution positively. Louise Bryant pointed out that in the Soviet Union, women would be given voting rights which would not yet be a reality in America until 1920. Likewise, Lenin kept his promise to bring Russia out of World War One when she noted that President Wilson promised that America would not enter that war.