The joint lives of journalists and activists John Reed - referred to as Jack in familiar circumstances - and Louise Bryant from 1915 to 1920 are presented, the former who, at the time of the making of this movie, is the only American to be buried at the Kremlin in a place of honor. In their life together, they are sometimes friends, sometimes lovers, sometimes spouses, but always idealists who hold steadfast to their beliefs. They initially meet in Portland, Oregon in 1915 when Jack returns to his hometown on a speaking engagement, he already a well known "liberal" journalist writing about how the working class is paying the price for the elitists calling the shots in the war, with Louise the repressed wife of dentist Paul Trullinger, she who has dabbled in journalism as a means of independence from her traditional life. She is protective about her writing and how to get her point of view across, which often does not mesh even with those who may agree with that point of view. Jack and Louise attracted to each other sexually and emotionally, he asks her to return to New York with him both to be with him and to give her the freedom to write what she really wants. In New York, they associate with Jack's friends - who include among others playwright Eugene O'Neill and writer/activist Emma Goldman - who largely dismiss Louise as a lightweight, just the latest of Jack's girlfriends, and/or solely, in the minds of many of the men, a sexual being to be exploited. Despite their relationship/marriage largely at its end, Jack is able to convince Louise to travel to Russia with him in 1917 to report on and be involved with the Bolshevik Revolution, which Jack feels could be the impetus for the end of the war, and if successful, a model for the American working class. It ends up being a game changer in their lives, for Jack seeing the success of the working class, and for Louise being caught up in the fervor of true idealism coming to fruition regardless of the specific issue. The Revolution will have an impact on their lives in a different way as a possible cause of them never seeing each other again, as (1) it causes Russia to be an isolated nation, (2) the scourge of Communism, Jack who is largely seen as the face of it in the US, being something that most in the mainstream of American life would like to see eradicated, and (3) Communism in Russia not being true to the academic definition of the term and perhaps not quite what Jack or his socialist associates in the US had envisioned. Through it all, an issue in the background but one that plays an integral part of their story is Jack's poor health, something that he does little to improve or care for in his goal of forwarding his leftist ideals. Interspersed with the dramatization of Jack and Louise's life are current day interviews with real life players who knew Jack and/or Louise, or who knew of the issues with which they were dealing.