It can be hard for modern audiences to appreciate just how tense the Cold War could be at times. The threat of nuclear war loomed large to many once the Soviet Union got nukes. The era of fear waxed and waned depending on the time and regime, but for several decades the US and USSR glared at each other, fought proxy wars, and planned for Doomsday.
This period affected media in many ways. Post apocalyptic stories became common place. Towards the end of this tense time in world history would rise Red Dawn. This 1984 film follows the start of World War III as a group of Colorado high school students find themselves guerrilla fighters against a Communist invasion.
The premise might seem goofy to us now, and even at the time of release the film was only considered so-so, but it’s still a decent watch. One of the most striking facets of the movie is how it portrays the Communist forces. They are not you stereotypical Bond-style mustache-twirling Reds. They’re conscripts and professional soldiers who act like it throughout the film. They respond to the guerillas and occupation of hostile territory as you would expect such forces to operate, and the high school kids respond accordingly, or at least try to respond accordingly.
The movie doesn’t pull punches on either side, demonstrating the desperation for the Soviets to fend off starvation in the Motherland while the United States struggles to fight back against the enemy invasion. The protagonists and the Soviets both commit war crimes and desperate acts to achieve victory.
Red Dawn captures the horrors of a war brought home and gloriously deconstructs the gun-ho stories of the end of the Cold War. With the world facing the potential of nuclear war even into the end of the ‘80’s, it’s hard to blame people for the sort of movies and books that came out with their bleak outlooks.
The movie is not without its faults, of course. Still, it does capture the humanity and horror of war on both sides, bringing a gritty, grim reality to the film despite the somewhat implausible premise. As a tragic tale of children turned soldiers against an invading enemy, the movie is a beautiful dramatic war film.
Modern audiences may find the premise so implausible as to render the film difficult to watch and impossible to enjoy. Despite such sentiments or beliefs, Red Dawn succeeds as a gripping war movie that brings home the realities of war and occupation. The story is gripping enough and the action performed well enough that despite the premise, fans of such movies are sure to enjoy the ride. For those more inclined to the silly side, Rifftrax has released a view of the file, so while you’ll need to obtain the movie to watch alongside their remarks, it’s another way to enjoy the film if you prefer comedic barbs over silly premises and drama. Either way, you are sure to enjoy the movie for whatever reason you choose, or even both reasons if that’s your style.