You soulless bastards.
Me? I’ll always remember Powers Boothe as Curly Bill Brocious, from 1993’s Tombstone. He was utterly perfect in that movie—at times expansive and friendly, yet at others operatically cruel and vengeful. Powers Boothe had gravitas, he had presence, he had power. (No pun intended.)
And yet, as phenomenal as that movie was—and it was—and as phenomenal as he was in it—and he was—that wasn’t Boothe’s best role. For me, that will always be Lt. Col. Andrew “Andy” Tanner, in 1984’s legendary Cold War invasion pic, Red Dawn.
An Eagle driver—for the plebs in the audience, that means he’s the pilot of a McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter—Col. Tanner was shot down over Colorado during the invasion of the United States by a Russian-Cuban-Nicaraguan Communist alliance. Think of it as an alternate history where, in the wake of Vietnam, anti-war Democrats succeeded in gelding the great US military machine, leaving us vulnerable to foreign subversion, infiltration, and eventually invasion.
But honestly, the politics are irrelevant. It’s stage dressing, a flimsy justification to tell a stark and chilling tale about Colorado high school kids caught behind enemy lines, forced to live off the land while their hometown is occupied by foreign invaders who’ve shot friends and family, and who rule with cruelty and ruthlessness. Drawn into fighting by accident, forced to defend themselves against the Communist forces, they use their skills at hunting and stalking to strike back at the invaders.
And they ABSOLUTELY KICK ASS.
They shoot up convoys, raid outposts, and stage ambushes, small and large. They bomb the local “We Russian Communists Love Our American Comrades So, So Much That We’re Here to Free You From Servitude” center, then stage a breakout from a re-education camp. They kill Russians, Cubans, and Nicaraguans and even, in one especially wrenching scene, one of their own who’d sold them out. Their battlecry—“Wolverines!”, after their local high school mascot—becomes a rallying cry for others. They inspire people.
Under the pressure of the invasion, and reprisals against their families and neighbors, some of the kids become cold and vengeful, some rise to the occasion, and some crumble under the pressure, but ultimately they’re just normal kids, cut off and alone, fighting desperately to free their hometown from the invaders.
The movie has a truly bittersweet ending. Pushed to utter desperation after several of their number are slain by Soviet forces, they stage a final attack on the local Communist military headquarters, during which some of them escape but some do not.
The movie closes with a shot of a boulder, into which the teens had carved the names of their dead. It’s after the war, the US has won, and the place has been made into a war memorial, “Partisan Rock”. The plaque reads: “In the early days of World War III, guerrillas—mostly children—placed the names of their lost upon this rock. They fought here alone and gave up their lives, so that this nation should not perish from the earth.”
The movie isn’t really about Communists, or the Cold War, or World War 3. It’s about patriotism, love of country, about fighting for your family, home, and country, about giving your life to help protect and preserve her. It’s about fighting for your rights and freedoms, in the face of overwhelming opposition. It’s about enduring privation and suffering, and children being forced to become adults through those experiences.
Powers Boothe’s character came into the group as an outsider, an adult, a military veteran who taught the kids the essentials of fighting a war, rather than just hunting men. He became an advisor, a trainer, a surrogate father, and died saving the lives of his charges. And, as was his wont, Boothe stole every single scene he was in.
We’re a pampered and wealthy people, a people so wealthy we’re going insane from the surfeit. It’s good for us to be reminded that life can be harsh and wrenching sometimes, that wealth and ease aren’t rights, but rather blessings, and that many times, many of us have had to suffer and die to secure those blessings.
I love Red Dawn, because I love my country and I’m eager to induct those who attack her into Club Afterlife. Plus, playing war is cool. If pretending to shoot imaginary bad guys is wrong, I NEVER WANT TO BE RIGHT.
Red Dawn mixed shocking images of the invasion of our own country with the wish-fulfillment of killing those self-same invaders. And Powers Boothe, though not playing one of the main characters, sold his role with his customary conviction and gravitas, and made the movie all the better for his presence.
Rest in peace, good sir. You will be missed.