'Red Dawn' is one of those movies I sometimes feel guilty seeing, but was a product of its time. Though we didn't know it, the Cold War was nearing its end, and the Berlin Wall would be history 5 years later. However, Gorbachev had not yet assumed the Soviet presidency & Americans were still nervous about nuclear war.
It begins in Colorado, when a teacher sees paratroops landing on the field of a small high school. When he goes out to investigate, he is savagely gunned down by Soviet soldiers. The soldiers then open fire on the school, sending the students running for cover. A small group, led by Jed (Swayze) & Matt (Sheen) Eckert, head for the mountains with Robert (Howell) & 2 others. After evading Soviet troops, tanks, & aircraft, they reach Robert's dad's store where they pick up camping gear, food & weapons. Escaping into the mountains, they set up camp. 2 days later, they return to the town which is under control of the Soviet Army. They learn the KGB is hunting for them, and after leaving they stop at a family friend's where they learn Robert's dad was murdered by Soviet soldiers who came looking for the guns. They also pick up the man's granddaughters, Toni (Grey) & Erica (Thompson) who are hiding in a cellar after Soviet soldiers tried to rape them. Soon after, a Soviet patrol heads into the highlands where they are hiding out, and the teens encounter them. One soldier goes after Toni in spite of warnings from the other soldiers, and is killed with his own gun. A second soldier runs into Robert, who guns him down, and the third soldier escapes back to his jeep in spite of serious wounds. The young man gasps a warning over the radio, but Jed catches up to him, and the terrified young man looks at Jed then turns away before Jed shoots him at point-blank range. This is the first hint that some in the group are humanizing the soldiers that they killed.
When the invasion's commander discovers the dead Soviet soldiers, he orders the town's residents - one of whom is the Eckert boys' dad (Stanton) to dig graves for the dead men, then savagely murders them by firing squad. One of the Eckert boys sees it happen, and they start planning guerrilla-type operations against the Soviet troops. The first involves Toni riding a bike to a fueling station where a Russian tank is being fueled, and when the soldiers take her bag it contains a grenade which kills the tank's driver. As Toni runs across an open field with the tank's crew on her heels, 3 of the boys pop up out of foxholes & gun down the men. Encouraged by their success, they continue with others, the most notable of which is an attack on a firing squad. As Russian soldiers & their C.O. line up civilians for the firing squad, the officer gives the command to aim - and then suddenly the entire firing squad is cut down by the 'Wolverines', allowing the civilians to escape.
In the dead of winter, they find a new ally in Lt-Col. Andrew Tanner (Boothe) of the U.S.A.F. Tanner, an F-15 pilot, had destroyed 4 of 5 Soviet MiG fighters before being shot down. With a military man in their midst, they find out about the extent of the invasion & Col. Tanner begins helping them plot new guerrilla operations, including rescuing political prisoners from the so-called 're-education' camps.
Soviet Colonel Strelnikov (William Smith) is brought in to hunt down the 'Wolverines' & eliminate them, but his plans soon go awry after one of his soldiers is captured & killed by the Wolverines, and an attempt to hunt them down with MiL-Mi24 helicopter gunships fails.
By now, the enraged Col. Bella (O'Neal) has become disillusioned with the invasion & plans to return home to his wife in Cuba. General Bratchenko, the Russian officer in charge of the invasion, is killed in a raid by Matt & Jed. Colonel Strelnikov manages to fatally wound both Matt & Jed, but is ambushed & killed by Jed while searching for Matt. When he spots Matt & Jed, both mortally wounded, Bella points his AK-47 at him, but decides not to shoot. Perhaps now both sides have begun to see each other as humans, not so different from each other.
Though a Soviet invasion in this way would have been near-impossible, it was a chilling alternative to 'The Day After', which basically portrayed a nuclear wasteland. 'Red Dawn' presented an equally chilling possibility to Americans - living under the iron fist of a Soviet communist dictatorship where the KGB ran your life, and the realization that insurgents could force something as powerful as the Soviet Army to retreat.
Review by medic249a2 from the Internet Movie Database.