John Milius has always fancied himself as a latter day Hemingway, a kind of warrior-poet accredited with Jaws, Dirty Harry, and Evel Knievel. His heroes are Patton, MacArthur, and Roosevelt; not your average right-wing American heroes, but mavericks, tyrants, and visionary leaders.
David Thompson wrote of Milius as having, "earned and even provoked the press reputation of a strident, magnum-brandishing reactionary. But he is more than that. He is an anarchist, he is articulate, and he has an unshakable faith in human grandeur." This would seem true from his directorial efforts, Dillinger, Conan The Barbarian, and The Wind and the Lion, but Red Dawn is a rather strange nut to crack.
On the surface it would seem a screaming advert for the survivalist cause. Guns, bow and arrows, camoflauge-kids versus Soviet-Bloc forces and winning would be a middle American dream come true. Of course it also asks the question much like in Zombie movies-what would you do? And secretly most of us would love to be in that situation.
Take away the sub-standard effects(watch out for guns that don't flash, squibs that don't burst) and rather poor editing, ignore the A-Team heroics and somewhere in there is actually an interesting take on American politics.
The militaristic mentality of the States is not just seen as it's saving grace but also the reason it gets invaded in the first place. The NRA member with the bumper sticker, " You can have my gun when you prise it out of my cold, dead, hand," has that very thing done, an ironic commentary on Regan's position with the arms race and Star Wars.
The film tells us that Nato has dissolved leaving America alone and vulnerable to attack. Only Britain remains faithful and is destoyed for doing so. Perhaps such an aggressive stance has set the scene for Nato to leave America to it's fate, or a backhanded swipe at the willingness and ability of mainland Europe to aid them in their hour of need.
This then begs the question, as it does today, of America's place in the world. Should they remain at the forefront of global politics or retreat into the isolationism of the pre WW1 years?
Red Dawn even evokes The Battle of Algiers in places. The entrance of the elite paratroops and their leaders subsequent briefing are a homage to that great film and try to redress the balance of the freedomfighter/terrorist conundrum. Unfortunately the astute political commentary of Algiers is lost and confused amongst Red Dawns B-movie sensibilities.
At the centre of the movie is the young Brat-Pack cast. Sadly, most of their roles are tremendously underwritten; and as fear, betrayal, and loss become an interesting factor their characters are not significantly written enough to give these themes the weight they deserve.
Still, the sight of C. Thomas Howell going toe-to-toe with a Hind helicopter gunship is something to behold, wish fulfilment on a grand scale and the heroic statement that Milius is famous for.