Geopolitics Aside, ‘Red Dawn’ is Decent Action Movie

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionE-mail page to friendE-mail page to friendPDF versionPDF version
No votes yet Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – Given the state of the post-9/11 world, and the delicate negotiations between nations, remaking “Red Dawn” posed a considerable risk. But the film takes a ‘“damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,” approach, and pulls off an adrenaline rush featuring Chris Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson and Josh Peck.

It’s World War III all over again, this time featuring the North Koreans instead of the Russians. Like the original film, it features common teenagers and young adults turned into a guerrilla military force. Also like its predecessor, “Red Dawn” is stocked with the appropriately aged actors of the moment, and creates their heroes by defining them as underground vigilantes. It becomes about stiffening the spine, fighting the enemy and kicking ass – and the movie delivers that in spades – mostly with firefights and explosions. The actions sequences are well staged, and like the 1984 film produces the same weird chill of seeing paramilitary activity on Norman Rockwell’s Main Street.

In a mid size town in Washington State, the bucolic life centers on high school sports and American values. Lurking in the background is an unstable situation overseas, that devolves into a new “axis of evil,” anchored by North Korea. The United States government is compromised, and North Korean paratroopers descend even into the smaller towns, attacking America on its own soil. This hits home to one particular family, as father Tom (Brett Cullen) is the town sheriff, and he encourages his sons Jed (Chris Hemsworth) and Matt (Josh Peck) to escape to a family cabin.

Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, Chris Hemsworth
Wolverines!: Matt (Josh Peck), Robert (Josh Hutcherson) and Jed (Chris Hemsworth) in ‘Red Dawn’
Photo credit: Film District

Several of Matt’s high school buddies and Jed’s friends have escaped with them, including Robert (Josh Hutcherson), Toni (Adrianne Palicki) and Erica (Isabel Lucas). Jed was in-country in Iraq, and he understands the situation at hand. After witnessing a tragedy, he buries the crew deep in the woods and begins training them in guerrilla warfare. They start covert missions against the North Koreans and call themselves Wolverines, after their high school mascot. When a lost Marine colonel named Tanner (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) joins up with the force, victory might be in their grasp.

There is a prologue which explains the domino effect that leads to the conflict, and it feels plausible, because everything is plausible in a world gone mad. Given this scenario, the resulting warfare just might occur, which makes the fantasy guerrilla force all the more logical. In the two year filmmaking process, the production must have been holding their breath, because any similar incident that would have stirred any hot war would have killed “Red Dawn” at any point. Timing is everything, especially within geopolitical conflict.

The structure of the film becomes important, because again the sensitivity of real war – in the sense that America has been fighting two of them in the last ten years – allows that the warrior scenario must be fantastical. The screenplay (by Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore) gives the kids a personal revenge factor, and each of the raids have a “Great Escape” style plan to them. The stakes are high, and small victories explain the pulse-pounding exultation of war heroes and the shouting of “Wolverine!”

Like Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Jennifer Grey and Lea Thompson from the original, hot young stars like Chris Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Josh Peck and Isabel Lucas get to play soldier, presupposing their future stardom. Can we expect another “Red Dawn” in 2037? America fights Martians that they have released by their rover probes? Just spitballing. The cast is sincere enough to make it work, which is their job, and besides the fact that the girl’s hairstyles stay fabulous in the wild, the genders get equal status in the vigilante battles.

Josh Peck, Isabel Lucas
Love in Wartime: Matt and Erica (Isabel Lucas) in ‘Red Dawn’
Photo credit: Film District

It’s impossible not to think about the pro-gun, American exceptionalism and the love-it-or-leave-it philosophy in “Red Dawn,” because those traits are lost in the real war on the invisible enemy of terrorism. To the film’s credit, it doesn’t treat the North Koreans as evil, as much as just soldiers. That tempers the jingoism somewhat, and the aforementioned revenge and heroism also allows for some empathy. This version is more of an action movie, and it’s a good one.

Unfortunately, a favorite line from the first “Red Dawn” was omitted. “Who is on our side?,” the original Jed asks. “Six hundred million screaming Chinamen,” stoically answers Tanner (Powers Boothe). The response: “I thought there were a billion screaming Chinamen.” And the answer to that…“There were.”

“Red Dawn” opens everywhere on November 21st. Featuring Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki, Isabel Lucas, Connor Cruise and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Screenplay by Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore. Directed by Dan Bradley. Rated “PG-13” (naturally, as the original was the first film to receive the “PG-13” rating) senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2012 Patrick McDonald,

User Login

Free Giveaway Mailing


  • Michael Shannon and Travis A. Knight, Red Orchid's TURRET

    CHICAGO – When in the presence of a powerful acting force like Michael Shannon, the depth of performance is emotional and passionately essential. He co-leads with Travis A. Knight in Red Orchid Theatre’s World Premiere of Levi Holloway’s “Turret,” just extended to June 22nd at the Chopin Theatre.

  • Joe Turner's Come and Gone Goodman Theatre

    CHICAGO – The late playwright August Wilson left a gift to the world in the form of his “American Century Cycle,” a series of plays each individually set in a decade of the 20th Century, focusing on the black experience. Chicago’s Goodman Theatre presents Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” now through May 19th, 2024 (click here).

Advertisement on Twitter

archive Top Ten Discussions