Red Dawn [1984]

The Ronald Reagan 1980s were all about going back to the future--rewriting the past to better suit Reagan's upbeat vision of the present. So, Sylvester Stallone's John Rambo (a psychotic, shell-shocked Vietnam vet in the original film, transformed into a flag-waving hero in the sequel) was able to go back to Southeast Asia and "correct" history by decisively (and single-handedly) winning that messy ol' war on behalf of America. Red Dawn is a paranoid cold-war cautionary tale that presents us not with a rosy alternative past, but with an ominous vision of the future, metaphorically plopping a piece of Russian-occupied Afghanistan into America's back yard. In this celebration of the Second Amendment, storm troopers from the Evil Empire descend upon the inadequately defended United States and hold America hostage. Stealthily avoiding the invaders, a motley group of red-blooded, small-town, gun-toting teenagers go underground to form the Wolverines, a guerilla resistance squad dedicated to making those Russkies rue the day they parachuted onto U.S. soil. It's a darn good thing those kids had the right to keep and bear arms, huh! Written and directed by macho filmmaker John Milius, the self-described "Zen fascist" who also cowrote Apocalypse Now, as well as the horrifying shark story Robert Shaw tells in Jaws. The cast includes Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Jennifer Grey (a few years before she and Swayze took up Dirty Dancing), Charlie Sheen, Powers Boothe, Harry Dean Stanton, and Ben Johnson. Red Dawn was a commercial success, although audiences invariably split into two camps, finding it either patriotic or appalling. Whatever your verdict, the film remains a telling reflection of its era. --Jim Emerson

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