But Reds was -- and is -- much more. For all its vast sprawling across history, politics and geography, Reds is at heart a love story. And it's the love story and the deep connection between Jack Reed (Beatty) and Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) that keep the viewer's attention.
In 1916, Reed was already a respected progressive journalist when he met Louise Bryant in Portland, Ore. Bryant sought a career in writing as well, and in Reed she found an advisor, a competitor, an intellectual challenge and a lover. Reed -- like Beatty -- struggled to balance art and politics. Their relationship was complicated by jealousy and pride and, eventually, a sense of riding the wave of history, as this country went to war and revolution swept across Russia.
Beatty set the historical context through a succession of testimonials by people who knew the real Jack Reed and Louise Bryant. Shot against a stark black background, the witnesses' stories vividly illustrate both the vagaries of memory and its importance in shaping how events accrue meaning.
The film itself takes two disks, and this anniversary edition includes an hour-long retrospective on the making of the film. It's remarkable for Beatty's cooperation and presence -- when the film came out in 1981, he didn't do a single interview, making this DVD his first public statement about the film since its original release.
Now, 25 years after its release and 90 years after the events it portrays, Reds remains topical. The country is again at war; while the casualties rise, the divide between rich and poor grows. Public discourse -- over issues like patriotism, women's rights and immigration -- remains polarized. The struggle between art and politics goes on.