Early Review of Red Dawn

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Remakes are a risky business, especially when it comes to such a, uh, beloved (and we use the term loosely) film as Red Dawn. It’s a crown jewel from that short period in the 80s when every flick seemed to follow the mantra, “F*ck yes, America!”
The Patrick Swayze “classic” really wasn’t a very good movie by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, it’s a great film to accompany a 12-pack on Sunday afternoon with your buddies, but it’s just so incredibly outdated. Still, when they announced the new Red Dawn, I was hesitant to embrace the idea, since I am, after all, a red-blooded American male. This is probably why I hate myself a little for liking the remake so damn much.

Everything you might have loved about the original is still here in all its glory. Chris Hemsworth (better known these days as Thor) takes over the Swayze role, only this time he’s a marine on leave visiting his dad (Brett Cullen) and brother (Josh Peck), when the North Koreans decide to attack. It’s a small change, but it makes so much more sense as he gathers a bunch of random high school students (including Josh Hutcherson, whom the ladies just love since The Hunger Games). The story revolves around this group of freedom fighters, under their high school mascot’s moniker – the Wolverines – utilizing guerrilla tactics to create chaos and destroy the Koreans’ moral.
The story is just as ridiculous as the original, but this time around, it seems a little more grounded as the Wolverines take on the tactics that Hemsworth learned during his tour in Iraq. This, of course, evokes the very interesting idea that one side’s freedom fighter is the other side’s terrorist, surprising for a movie that seems so pro-America to bring up (Hemsworth at one point even says, “Now they’re the bad guys”), but one that really adds to the stakes for the characters.
Despite this, though, the movie makes a point of showing just how much the townspeople support the Wolverines, hiding them from troops and helping them escape. While these scenes are not a dominant focus of the film (this is a much more action-centric take than the original), it goes a long way in reminding the audience that these are the good guys.

This time around, Red Dawn takes a much more down-and-dirty approach to warfare, thanks to stuntman-turned-director Dan Bradley. People die in this film, and others are sacrificed. When one member of the Wolverines comments that he misses the game Modern Warfare, another reminds them that they are living its tactics. The film is less about them bravely charging into battle and defeating their enemies than about them hiding in the shadows and playing “dirty.” This is not a film that tries to glamorize war.
That being said, it’s still filled with plenty of shootouts (especially when Jeffery Dean Morgan meets up with the teens) and explosions that even Michael Bay would enjoy. However, Bradley’s inexperience behind the camera shows when he resorts to quick cuts and shaky camerawork, which mainly serves to stifle the action sequences, especially during the obligatory fistfight between Hemsworth and Korean head honcho Will Yun Lee. At times it’s almost impossible to tell what’s going until the dust has settled, which might be great to simulate the chaos of battle, but really sucks for moviegoers trying to root for the heroes.

Still, Red Dawn is an action flick, which means that no one is really expected to give a performance that will bring audiences to tears. That being said, Hemsworth does what he does best as the hero of the film, delivering a stirring speech or two to call his troops to arms. Morgan is a breath of fresh air when he enters during the third act to shake up the group dynamic of the characters, because let’s face it, they all wear their motivations on their sleeves.
However, the most confusing thing about Red Dawn is why Hutcherson is playing a supporting character and not Hemsworth’s brother. Peck just seems too sniveling and pathetic for anyone to picture as Thor’s younger brother, and the two look nothing alike. Still, at least Josh is there to draw the audience’s eye away from this bizarre casting choice. He is even beginning to seem like he’s going to make the transition from child actor to big-boy roles.
Red Dawn is one of the best remakes I’ve seen (no, I’m not counting adaptations of foreign films on that list). It’s no True Grit, but it gets the job done and improves on the original. I’m sure there will be plenty of crotchety old men out there saying it’s a travesty, but that’s more out of principal than anything else. I certainly had no intentions of liking it when the opening credits started rolling, but it proved me wrong. Trust me on this: Red Dawn is worth the price of admission even despite its shortcomings. It’s a fun movie that might be even better in two years when it’s being played on AMC every other weekend.