The Reagans (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This is the controversial CBS mini-series that never got aired because of conservative backlash.

Although it isn't really my kind of project, I watched it because I was curious about whether it was a hatchet job. I guess I still don't know the answer because I don't remember all the arguments and counter-arguments from that era, but I can at least share with you what kind of Reagan family is pictured here.

Unlike most of the people who have become President since Truman, the Ronald Reagan pictured here was a decent man. He really believed in right and wrong, and he believed that if he made a mistake he should own up to it, like the good guys in the movies from his era. He was not very good at discussing personal feelings, but he was clear about what he believed in. He wanted to do the right things for the country and the world, even if those things were not the right things for Ronald Reagan.

He wasn't a dirty politician. The worst thing he said about Jimmy Carter was completely fair - he asked the American public to look deep inside their hearts and ask whether they were better off at the end of Carter's term than at the beginning. He then said that if people thought their lives had improved in Carter's years, then they should vote for Carter, but if not ...

That's how he got to be President. He was a sincere, old-fashioned man, unlike the jaded cynics who dominate the world of politics. People listened to him, believed him, liked him. Just like in the movies.

That was the positive side of the profile. On the negative side, he was dumber than any of his co-stars, including Bonzo. His obtuse mind, coupled with his black and white sense of right and wrong, led him to make broad, simplistic conclusions lacking in nuance and analysis.

Frankly, that is probably a fairly accurate picture of Mr Reagan. His supporters want to spin the man by saying that he approached problems with clarity of purpose. Those who disagreed with him said that he was simply dumber than a box of rocks, and that his clarity derived from simple-minded preconceptions. If you want to take a balanced view, I offer that it doesn't matter. A simple world-view is not necessarily a valid exclusionary criterion for the Presidency. The most important part of the job of President of the United States is to offer leadership and direction. He does not need to be a political genius or a policy wonk like Clinton and Nixon, nor does he need to grasp any issues with any depth of understanding. He is the captain of a great ship. His job is to decide where to sail that ship, not to hoist the sails. In his position, he can hire anyone he cares to hire, including plenty of people smart enough not to raise the mainsail on the mizzenmast. Whatever that means. (I'd have to hire some mizzenmast dudes myself.)

As pictured here, Reagan's simple weltanschauung led him to make some bad judgments and/or rash statements without due consideration. The line that got this film into trouble with conservatives was when Reagan said "those who live in sin shall die in sin". Reagan was pictured saying that in response to the AIDS crisis in 1985 or 86, but he never said that at all. It was a fictionalization. Conservatives called it "a lie".

That's politics.

They were right, of course. It was a lie, or a fictionalization, if you prefer.

What the conservatives didn't tell you is that what Reagan really said about the subject was worse, and far more insensitive. The fictionalization was actually a whitewash, but the conservatives spun it as a slander!

That's politics.

Reagan actually said, on May 27, 1989, "Maybe the Lord brought down this plague (AIDS) - illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments." Of course, he had left office by then, but it's pretty reasonable to conclude that he must have said similar things in 1985 and 86.



As for Nancy Reagan, she is pictured here as having possessed Machiavellian cunning, which is in line with the general perception of her. At one annual press club roast, a wag remarked, "we're here in honor of the most powerful person in Washington, and I'm glad to see she brought her husband with her". If you look at the Reagans as a team, the way they are pictured here made them a good two-headed President. The Gipper set the agenda and handled the charm and decency. Nancy worked behind the scenes to see that things really got done the way Ron wanted them done. He had the vision, she had the smarts and will. I don't know if that is really accurate or not, but it rings true to me.

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen anamorphic

  • interview with James Brolin

  • about a dozen extended and deleted scenes

  • full length producer/director commentary

Setting aside the accuracy issue, which I have not studied, is The Reagans a good movie? Not bad. It's at least an above average made-for-TV project. James Brolin and Judy Davis do a good job in the leads, and the structure of the film is interesting enough that I was able to negotiate the three hours without any boredom. I found it to be an interesting look back at the Reagan years, but nothing really to merit the controversy it engendered. Contrary to the official conservative line, I ended up thinking of the Reagans as real people, and liking them far more than I did before I watched the film.

The Critics Vote ...

  •  No major reviews online.

Miscellaneous ...

The People Vote ...

  • It was created as a CBS mini-series, finally got shunted over to the Showtime network after the conservative protests.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C. Reasonably engaging as a piece of human interest fluff, not meant to be a definitive historical piece.

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