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Hatchet Job? Reagan Movie Is Run of the Mill (The Official New York Times Review!)
The New York Times ^ | November 30, 2003 | Alessandra Stanley

Posted on 11/30/2003 2:16:26 AM PST by Timesink

November 30, 2003
TELEVISION REVIEW

Hatchet Job? Reagan Movie Is Run of the Mill

By ALESSANDRA STANLEY

There is no reason Showtime's version of "The Reagans" could not have been broadcast on CBS earlier this month.

Tonight's made-for-television movie incited conservatives to threaten a boycott, which led the network to cancel it. Consigned to Showtime, a premium cable channel owned by CBS's parent company, Viacom, "The Reagans" turns out to be neither a liberal screed on Reaganomics nor a character attack on former President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy.

It is a movie. More precisely, it is a made-for-television movie that squeezes real life characters and historical moments into a convenient dramatic arc: a love story lived out against a backdrop of the cold war, California politics and Washington intrigue. "The Reagans" is reasonably accurate, at times engrossing, at other times silly and sometimes even dull. It is not a thoughtful look at a critical moment in American history. It is a domestic drama about a loving couple beset by Hollywood agents, Republican backers, scheming advisers and, most of all, their angry, needy children.

Anyone eagerly anticipating or dreading a hatchet job on the 40th president is bound to feel confounded. James Brolin's portrayal of Ronald Reagan is uncannily convincing and respectful. Judy Davis as Mrs. Reagan verges on campy caricature, but even at her most imperious, the first lady never stops being a protective, loving wife. Moments after the 1981 inauguration, the film has her laying down the Nancy Doctrine. "We will not wear clogs," she instructs her rebellious daughter, Patti, in clipped "Mommie Dearest" tones. "We represent our country."

But it is the film's visual style that is most likely to offend the keepers of the Gipper's flame: shot mostly in darkly lit interiors and small, enclosed spaces like hospital rooms, elevators and the presidential bedroom, the film denies Mr. Reagan the Mount Rushmore-John Ford grandeur that his image-makers worked so hard to project. This is not "Morning in America." It is Late Afternoon in Washington, D.C.

The film opens in 1987 with a hurt, bewildered Mr. Reagan discussing the possibility of impeachment over the Iran-Contra affair with his adviser Michael Deaver, as Mrs. Reagan hovers over him.

Then it flashes back to 1949 in Hollywood, when Ronald Reagan, then president of the Screen Actors Guild, is asked to take to dinner an actress, Nancy Davis, who fears she could be blacklisted because her name was mistakenly included on a list of Communist sympathizers. They fall in love. (That is the only mention of Mr. Reagan's role in the McCarthy era; in this movie, the only Red menace is Nancy Reagan's wardrobe.)

From the moment Mr. Reagan begins working as a General Electric spokesman in the early 1950's to his last days in the Oval Office, he is portrayed as a man of sincere, even stubborn conviction, who shifts a lot of responsibility — and most of the dirty work — to others, particularly the wife he calls "Mommy" and "Nancy Pants." It is an adoring Mrs. Reagan and a slightly more sinister cabal of Republican tycoons who persuade him to change parties and then stage-manage his transition to politics from acting.

While machinations swirl in meetings around him, the president is often safely tucked into bed or behind Oval Office doors.

Mrs. Reagan, whose Adolfo suits seem to turn redder as her power swells, provides dramatic and comic relief. She roams the White House at will, like a panther in three-inch heels, stalking her prey to protect her mate. She tells America's youth to "just say no," but she wants everyone around her to just say yes. "I can't serve a state dinner with these," she tells a White House steward showing her the White House china. "We might as well use paper plates."

The recreation of the 1981 assassination attempt is scary and effective. But no scene is more frightening than the moment when a red-sleeved arm shoots across the screen to stop an elevator from closing behind a fleeing Donald T. Regan, then chief of staff. As movies from "Dressed to Kill" to "Silence of the Lambs" have taught, don't stay in that elevator, Don.

Even this astrologer-driven Mrs. Reagan turns warm and likable when alone with her husband, in bed or on the ranch. But she has other human moments. When she discovers that her hairdresser died of AIDS, she sets up a meeting with HIV-infected men, then implores her husband to do something. "If you don't talk about it," she warns, "nobody will talk about it." Mr. Reagan, reading a briefing book, pays no heed.

Reacting to news articles about the script, conservatives complained that it unfairly portrayed the former president as indifferent to the AIDS crisis that erupted during his watch. The film's producers did not restore what they had cut for CBS: the president's highly contested and fictional line, "Those who live in sin shall die in sin." In this scaled-down version, Mr. Reagan appears silently unresponsive to the problem; even his most affectionate biographers concede that Mr. Reagan did not grasp the scale of the epidemic.

Politics and pathology meet in the Iran-Contra investigation, when it was revealed that Oliver L. North and other administration aides had traded arms for hostages in Iran and diverted illicit money to the Contras in Nicaragua. Under questioning, the president's "I don't remembers" begin as politically expedient memory lapses and morph on screen into the tragic blank spaces of early Alzheimer's.

When it canceled "The Reagans," CBS said it was not responding to pressure, but making a "moral call." But the three-hour version on Showtime does little to support the network's claim. "The Reagans" may not be a cinematic masterpiece, but it is hardly an act of treason.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Front Page News; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: alessandrastanley; cbs; mediabias; newyorktimes; nyt; nytschadenfreude; schadenfreude; showtime; thenewyorktimes; thereagans; viacom
Why am I not surprised by the tone or conclusions of this review?
1 posted on 11/30/2003 2:16:27 AM PST by Timesink
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To: martin_fierro; reformed_democrat; Loyalist; =Intervention=; PianoMan; GOPJ; Miss Marple; Tamsey; ...

Schadenfreude

This is the New York Times Schadenfreude Ping List. Freepmail me to be added or dropped.


This is the Mainstream Media Shenanigans ping list. Please freepmail me to be added or dropped.
Please note this is a medium- to high-volume list.
Please feel free to ping me if you come across a thread you would think worthy of this ping list. I can't catch them all!


2 posted on 11/30/2003 2:17:36 AM PST by Timesink (I'm not a big fan of electronic stuff, you know? Beeps ... beeps freak me out. They're bad.)
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To: Timesink
The NYT would do well to replace this "reviewer" with Jayson Blair. He's more honest.
3 posted on 11/30/2003 2:25:07 AM PST by Bonaparte
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To: Timesink
shot mostly in darkly lit interiors and small, enclosed spaces like hospital rooms, elevators and the presidential bedroom
Saving money on the sets?

Cheap is as cheap does.

4 posted on 11/30/2003 2:25:53 AM PST by samtheman
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To: Timesink
...the only Red menace is Nancy Reagan's wardrobe...

Haw haw.

Hey, Ms. Dowd Lite, we've read Ann Coulter's book. We know how your paper worked 24/7 covering for Soviet spies, back then.

5 posted on 11/30/2003 2:29:41 AM PST by Byron_the_Aussie (http://www.theinterviewwithgod.com/popup2.html)
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To: Timesink
TimesWatch has an interesting "Topic Index" on Stanley.
6 posted on 11/30/2003 3:23:13 AM PST by martin_fierro (_____oooo_(____)_oooo_____)
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To: Timesink
"The Reagans" is reasonably accurate, at times engrossing, at other times silly and sometimes even dull. It is not a thoughtful look at a critical moment in American history. It is a domestic drama about a loving couple beset by Hollywood agents, Republican backers, scheming advisers and, most of all, their angry, needy children.

Perhaps noonan's "When Character Was King," will serve as basis for another try. Buy the book for yourself, a relative or friend -- it's worth every penny.

7 posted on 11/30/2003 3:57:35 AM PST by dadokane (bypass her first 20, self-indulgent pages, though.)
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To: Timesink
I can see why the NYT would consider it "harmless." However, their protestations belie that position.
8 posted on 11/30/2003 4:00:51 AM PST by anniegetyourgun
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To: Timesink
Let the revisionism begin.
9 posted on 11/30/2003 4:38:39 AM PST by xzins (Proud to be Army!)
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To: xzins
I haven't seen it and really don't intend to. But as I understand so far, they skip over "Mr. Gorbachov (sp) tear down this wall!"

This was RR's lifelong dream and everything he did culminated in the downfall of communism in his lifetime. They did not address it at all from what I understand, and certainly not as his life's work.

What a distortion!

DK
10 posted on 11/30/2003 4:46:15 AM PST by Dark Knight
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To: Timesink
I am canceling my HBO-Showtime service today. Both of these are turning into cultural sub-pumps of liberal sewage. No Sopranos, just allot of too cool for school programs. Six Feet Under.
11 posted on 11/30/2003 7:00:15 AM PST by Helms (The Di-tech Guy and E-loan Girl are to Wed in Hell)
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To: Timesink
I saw an advance screening of this film. The economic boom is not touched upon at all. The state of the nation after the brutal Carter policies is not mentioned. Reagan is not given credit for any good decision he ever made. The producers credit Nancy, Mike Deaver, and others instead. Reagan is seen as a dumb, lazy, ignorant pawn of history, instead of his true role as epochal man of change. It is not anger-provoking, merely boring. I watched it with a liberal and even she said it was silly and dull, and an "obvious fiction".

Don't bother watching it. You will only be annoyed at your own waste of time.

12 posted on 11/30/2003 10:23:15 AM PST by montag813
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To: Timesink
Some things never change. I am surprised the people who created this movie didn't just go over to Reagan's home and injury him physically, such as they have done emotionally with this unhappy, destructive, very inaccurate creation. It is shameful. It is not the inaccuracies that is the worst, it is the intent. Sad for the country.
13 posted on 11/30/2003 10:35:17 AM PST by thesummerwind (like painted skies, those days and nights, they went flyin' by)
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To: Timesink
Clearly, CBS thought that watering down their ludicrous movie would make it even-handed. If they really wanted an even-handed film, they should have strived to tell the truth.
14 posted on 11/30/2003 1:24:15 PM PST by Clintonfatigued
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To: Timesink
It hasn't been a good week for me media… GW Thanksgiving surprise to the troops and now this, LOL.
15 posted on 11/30/2003 1:32:25 PM PST by Victoria Delsoul (I love the smell of winning, the taste of victory, and the joy of each glorious triumph)
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To: Victoria Delsoul
Bump to that. LOL.
16 posted on 11/30/2003 7:01:42 PM PST by Alberta's Child ("To freedom, Alberta, horses . . . and women!")
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To: Alberta's Child
LOL! Hi AC, good to see ya! How's your puter?
17 posted on 11/30/2003 7:32:40 PM PST by Victoria Delsoul (I love the smell of winning, the taste of victory, and the joy of each glorious triumph)
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To: Victoria Delsoul
Good to see ya, Victoria! How was your Thanksgiving?

The 'puter is not quite OK, but it doesn't crash like it used to. I tried to install Windows 2000 yesterday, but I need to talk to the IT guy from work -- I think I'm doing something wrong.

18 posted on 11/30/2003 7:46:49 PM PST by Alberta's Child ("To freedom, Alberta, horses . . . and women!")
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To: Alberta's Child
Thanksgiving was great, thanks for asking.

Oh no, you doing something wrong? That's not possible.

19 posted on 11/30/2003 7:49:37 PM PST by Victoria Delsoul (I love the smell of winning, the taste of victory, and the joy of each glorious triumph)
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To: Victoria Delsoul
Oh no, you doing something wrong? That's not possible.

LOL!!!!

I hope nobody reads your comment -- they're going to start getting all sorts of wrong ideas about me in their heads!

20 posted on 11/30/2003 7:51:09 PM PST by Alberta's Child ("To freedom, Alberta, horses . . . and women!")
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To: Alberta's Child
Don't worry, I know you are perfect so who cares, LOL!!!
21 posted on 11/30/2003 7:55:00 PM PST by Victoria Delsoul (I love the smell of winning, the taste of victory, and the joy of each glorious triumph)
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To: Victoria Delsoul
You must have me confused with someone else. ;-)

Whoever this someone else is -- could you do me a favor and ask him to Freepmail me? I need some help installing Windows 2000 on my computer here. LOL!!

22 posted on 11/30/2003 8:01:00 PM PST by Alberta's Child ("To freedom, Alberta, horses . . . and women!")
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To: Alberta's Child
LOL, hopefully the IT guy would be able to help you. I'll keep my fingers crossed.
23 posted on 11/30/2003 8:04:19 PM PST by Victoria Delsoul (I love the smell of winning, the taste of victory, and the joy of each glorious triumph)
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To: Victoria Delsoul
Thanks for keeping me in mind. I think I'm going to need all the crossed fingers I can get!!
24 posted on 11/30/2003 8:08:34 PM PST by Alberta's Child ("To freedom, Alberta, horses . . . and women!")
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To: Timesink
It's because the NYT etal see nothing wrong with portraying RR as a bumbling wimp and Nancy as a wall to wall bitch - both of which came across on the many excerpts that Drudge broadcast on Rush in October.
25 posted on 11/30/2003 8:09:06 PM PST by Let's Roll (Pray that our brave troops receive protection, guidance and support in their fight against evil.)
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To: Timesink
The film opens in 1987 with a hurt, bewildered Mr. Reagan discussing the possibility of impeachment over the Iran-Contra affair with his adviser Michael Deaver, as Mrs. Reagan hovers over him.

The film starts with a slanderous lie and goes downhill from there.

26 posted on 12/01/2003 6:05:43 AM PST by Bubba_Leroy
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To: Timesink
the film denies Mr. Reagan the Mount Rushmore-John Ford grandeur that his image-makers worked so hard to project.

Oppps, Alessandra, you were trying so hard to hide your partisanship but right here you definitely slip up.

His "image-makers"? Sorry lil lady, your horns are showing, if you hear his radio broadcasts and his speeches, you would already understand that Reagan projected his face onto Mt Rushmore with little or no help from anyone.

27 posted on 12/01/2003 12:56:55 PM PST by PeoplesRep_of_LA (Treason doth never prosper, for if it does, none dare call it treason)
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