Warren Beatty’s towering historical drama Reds is one of the grandest achievements in cinema, a film that matches its epic scope with poignant intimacy on a character level, resulting in a work that has genuine grandeur and a sense of sweep that immediately engrosses the viewer. The often-imitated faux interview structure is marvelous to look back upon in retrospect, as it’s informed so many other filmmakers on so many diverse projects, and the way that Beatty was able to shape this sprawling yet always coherent narrative into something fully cohesive is a testament to both his innate understanding of filmmaking, and to the astounding work done by the film’s editors, Dede Allen and Craig McKay. The dense and info-packed screenplay by Beatty and co-writer Trevor Griffiths was based on the John Reed novel Ten Days that Shook the World, focusing on Reed’s life as a journalist during the Russian Revolution, and with Beatty assuming the lead role. Co-starring Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, both absolutely superb, the film had a deep supporting cast, including Paul Sorvino, Jezy Kosinski, Gene Hackman, Nicolas Coster, M. Emmet Walsh, Maureen Stapleton, Ramon Bieri, Edward Herrmann, and many others.
There’s a tremendous sense of romance running all throughout this big and volatile motion picture, with history and Hollywood colliding in the best sense, while the filmmakers stressed intelligence in all departments, resulting in a film made by adults and for adults. Master lenser Vittorio Storaro’s burnished and elegant cinematography worked in perfect tandem with the nearly overwhelming and astonishingly detailed production design by the legendary Richard Sylbert, while the evocative costumes from Shirley Russell reveled in period authenticity. After a year long shoot, in which Beatty and Keaton’s personal relationship apparently greatly suffered, the post-production process reportedly lasted close to two years, as this behemoth of a movie required various teams of editors to sift through nearly two and half million feet of film and the constant supervision of Beatty to bring it all home. Released in December of 1981 and garnering glowing reviews from critics, the film preformed solidly at the box office, grossing $40 million domestic; the over three hour run time definitely limited the number of screenings and likely dissuaded some people from seeing the film on the big screen. Beatty won the Oscar for Best Direction, Storaro for Best Cinematography, and Stapleton for Best Supporting Actress, with nine other nominations.