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American journalist John Reed (Warren Beatty) journeys to Russia to document the Boleshevik Revolution and returns a revolutionary. His fervor for left-wing politics leads him to Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton), then married, who will become a feminist icon and activist. Politics at home become more complicated as the rift grows between reality and Reed's ideals. Bryant takes up with a cynical playwright (Jack Nicholson), and Reed returns to Russia, where his health declines.