Skip to comments.Showtime's The Reagans as Belittling and Derogatory as Feared
Posted on 12/01/2003 10:36:19 AM PST by fight_truth_decay
I spent three hours -- two hours and 53 minutes to be exact -- on Sunday night watching The Reagans on Showtime so I could spare you the pain: The movie, originally produced as a two- part mini-series for CBS, was every bit as awful as conservatives feared with a belittling portrayal of Ronald Reagan. The movie delivered a cartoonish Ronald Reagan, played by James Brolin, who read words fed to him by others, seemed capable only of uttering short quips about "commies" and "big government" and followed the orders of others -- mainly an all-controlling Nancy Reagan, played by Judy Davis, who came across every bit as what rhymes with witch.
Before the showing of the movie, Matt Blank, Chairman and CEO of the Showtime Networks, delivered a condescending introductory message in which he bemoaned how the movie "has been criticized by those who have yet to see it as an unbalanced denouncement of Ronald Reagan's presidency," though that was exactly what viewers were about to see. He also maintained that "nearly all" of the "facts" are true: "Nearly all of the historical facts in the movie can be substantiated and have been carefully researched."
And the bias didn't relent after the movie when the producers displayed their political agenda in a series of on-screen text messages which highlighted how Reagan helped Saddam Hussein and blamed Reagan for AIDS deaths.
On the production values side, the film's shallowness and brief scenes meant it didn't approach the quality and authenticity of NBC's The West Wing.
After nearly three hours of scenes of a befuddled Reagan barely able to comprehend what aides around him are discussing, a bunch of very weird scenes of dreams in which Ronald Reagan imagines himself as a lifeguard saving present-day administration officials, and numerous temper tantrums between Nancy and daughter Patti, interrupted by Nancy consulting her astrologer and telling Mike Deaver how ketchup really is a vegetable, it's hard to imagine how anyone not familiar with the Reagan years -- anyone under age 30 or so -- would have any idea how he won election to any office, never mind a landslide re-election to the presidency.
On the political policy front, the movie basically jumped from negative anecdote to negative anecdote, highlighting a liberal hit parade from the 1980s: Reagan saying trees cause pollution, the administration counting ketchup as a vegetable, Reagan sleeping through a Libyan attack on an Air Force jet, embarrassment over SS graves at the Bitburg cemetery visited by Reagan, and how Reagan said he "saw" the "horrible" holocaust though he was in Hollywood during the war. (He probably was amongst the first to see the video of the death camps.)
And you don't have to take my word for how bad a movie CBS commissioned: On Saturday, Showtime let some TV critics see it and a few managed to write up reviews in time for their Sunday papers.
In the Los Angeles Times, state politics columnist Patt Morrison observed: "The problem Reagan's admirers and chroniclers will find is that's about all there is here; we get Iran-Contra, but not Reagan's 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.' We get the stupefyingly ill-advised visit to a cemetery where Nazi SS troops were buried, but not the Reagans teary-eyed at the memorial for the Challenger astronauts."
For Morrison's November 30 review in full: http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/asection/la-na-reagan30no v30,1,339506.column?coll=la-news-a_section
In a dispatch posted by Yahoo on Saturday night, the AP's David Bauder summarized the overall derogatory theme: "The Reagans' faults are familiar to those who followed his presidency. What's striking is how they dominate this film compared to Reagan's successes; the Iran-Contra affair is given considerably more time than the Cold War defeat of the Soviet Union, and the economic boom of the 1980s is barely touched upon. The film opens with a befuddled Ronald and tearful Nancy Reagan dealing with the fallout of Iran-Contra, in which the government traded arms to Iran for hostages."
For Bauder's November 29 review:
The Washington Post's liberal Tom Shales found some "endearing" moments, but he suggested: "Nancy Reagan as Cruella De Vil and Ronald Reagan as the nearsighted Mister Magoo? There are those who will probably find the depictions of the former President and First Lady in The Reagans just that simplistic and cartoonish."
Shales elaborated: "The film, while not a hatchet job or unrelentingly vicious attack, definitely makes the Reagans rather freakish creatures, Nancy with her fanatical reliance on an astrologer and her tendency to sob and rant in the bathtub, Ronald haunted by nightmares of being a lifeguard, as he was in his youth, and being unable to 'save,' among others, figures in his administration who go down in disgrace."
He lambasted CBS: "There's enough nastiness and character assassination in the film -- even without the line about AIDS -- to make CBS look wise in pulling it off the network and foolish in having scheduled it in the first place. It's a matter of bad timing as well as bad manners; former President Reagan is not only still alive but seriously and terminally ill, making a drama riddled with slurs unseemly and hugely inappropriate."
For the November 30 review by Shales in full: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A22139-2003Nov29.html
In Sunday's Miami Herald, Glenn Garvin conveyed: "The Reagans, which airs tonight on CBS' corporate cable cousin Showtime, portrays the former President as a bumbling bob who would have been more at home in a pie fight or an eye-poking contest than as leader of the free world. In the view of The Reagans, we should probably be thankful we didn't wind up with the chimp from Bedtime for Bonzo as Secretary of State."
While Garvin maintained that "the script of The Reagans is not the one-sided character assassination that conservatives were calling it a few weeks ago during the uproar that triggered the CBS cancellation," he reported: "It's still clear that the screenwriters (Jane Marchwood, Tom Rickman and Elizabeth Egloff) are not politically sympathetic to Reagan, particularly in the hysterical scenes in which he's blamed literally for the end of the world over his AIDS policies. And the sound-bite bits that they occasionally use from his speeches have been removed from all context, making them sound like troglodyte ravings. Easy enough to laugh now at talk of Soviet world domination, but nobody was giggling during the Berlin airlift or the Cuban Missile Crisis."
For Garvin's review in full: http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/entertainment/columnists/glenn_garvin/7378310.htm
In contrast, New York Times reviewer Alessandra Stanley didn't see what everyone else saw. Seemingly in a parallel universe, she insisted: "There is no reason Showtime's version of The Reagans could not have been broadcast on CBS earlier this month....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."
For Stanley's take in the "National" section of the Sunday New York Times: http://nytimes.com/2003/11/30/national/30REAG.html
Before the 8pm EST/PST showing of the movie, Matt Blank, Chairman and CEO of the Showtime Networks, delivered a condescending introductory message in which he bemoaned how the movie "has been criticized by those who have yet to see it as an unbalanced denouncement of Ronald Reagan's presidency," though that was exactly what viewers were about to see; argued that the movie "is, in fact, an honest portrayal of many of the turning points in his life;" and, in an unintentionally humorous claim, maintained that "nearly all" of the "facts" are true: "Nearly all of the historical facts in the movie can be substantiated and have been carefully researched."
Blank even wrapped himself in the flag: "We're pleased to live in a country where we're allowed to debate and question both our leaders and the world we live in."
Blank's pre-movie message: "As you probably know, The Reagans has been criticized by those who have yet to see it as an unbalanced denouncement of Ronald Reagan's presidency. We believe it is, in fact, an honest portrayal of many of the turning points in his life and in his political career. His legacy did not come without serious political controversy, and this movie attempts to portray that controversy alongside his incomparable statesmanship, charisma and galvanizing political leadership. A diligent attempt was made by the filmmakers to have factual sources for every scene in this movie. For dramatic purposes, some dialogue has been embellished and some characters are composites. But nearly all of the historical facts in the movie can be substantiated and have been carefully researched. Showtime is in a unique position to present programming that sparks this kind of debate, to take risks and to question and reexamine issues so that audiences can make judgments for themselves.
"We're pleased to live in a country where we're allowed to debate and question both our leaders and the world we live in. One of the most powerful ways to do this is on film. This right does not come without responsibility and scrutiny. Any time a movie inspires spirited debate, discussion, and even a renewed interest to take a closer look at history, that's a good thing."
And the bias didn't relent after the movie when the producers displayed their political agenda in a series of five on-screen text messages which acknowledged Reagan accomplishments that were absent in the film while also highlighting how Reagan helped Saddam Hussein and blaming Reagan for AIDS deaths.
The text messages, as displayed in white text on a black background:
"A year after Reagan left office,
the Berlin Wall came down,
ushering in the eventual
dissolution of the Soviet Union."
"In 1984, during the Iran-Iraq war,
the Reagan Administration
removed Iraq from its list of
terrorist nations, and aided
Saddam Hussein's military build-up."
"Reagan's economic policies
weathered the worst recession
since the Great Depression,
followed by the longest
peacetime boom in U.S. history."
"Today in the United States,
890,000 people live with
the AIDS virus.
Over 500,000 have died from
the disease, including
the 150,000 during the Reagan
"According to recent polls,
Ronald Reagan has
surpassed Abraham Lincoln
as one of America's most
"Ronald Reagan currently
suffers from advanced
Nancy devotes herself
entirely to his care."
Showtime will re-air the movie tonight at 10pm EST on Showtime Too East and 10pm PST on Showtime Too West, airings which will follow a Showtime (on main channel, not Too) panel discussion about the movie at 9pm EST on Showtime East/9pm PST on Showtime West.
Showtime's page for the movie:
Showtime's page for its panel discussion:
With a few exceptions, and with some of the dialogue slightly changed, virtually every scene outlined in the November 25 CyberAlert preview, compiled by the MRC's Rich Noyes based on a script posted by Salon.com, appeared in the final cut. For the preview, see several items in the November 25 CyberAlert: http://www.sho.com/site/movies/thereagans/controversy.do
Oh, and three last oddities I noticed:
a) At the hospital after Ronald Reagan is shot, a photographer takes some pictures of Reagan in bed with Nancy beside him. She later picks out a photo to be released, but demands that a nurse and IV stand be removed. But instead of being cropped out, the nurse and IV stand are magically lifted out with the resulting photo showing the wall and flowers which were behind the nurse. Software manipulation of a digital photo years before its time.
b) As Ronald and Nancy dance in the hallway of the White House residence on the last day of his presidency, and he forgets the steps, out the window you see, very large, the dome of the U.S. Capitol building. A geographically-challenged camera angle.
c) The name of the actor who plays President Jimmy Carter: John Andersen, one letter off from the actual independent candidate in 1980.
-- Brent Baker
Just a conclusion to those following The Reagans. I didn't watch..I had read enough of the screenplay. Those I know did not watch.
Oh, like the lefts merciless attack on Mel Gibson's new movie, The Passion? But, that's somehow different, huh?
Or snorting coke at Frank Sinatra's Palm Springs home, perhaps scoring some heroin from the Mob for his back pain too?
Not the whole truth...Herr Matt Blank. "Nearly all"? What a hedge! These people are unreasonable.
I can see what is coming next year - a movie, "The Clintons", where they will make the ex-boy-president and the first enabler look like Superman and Superwoman-er, with a few incidental human flaws for effect.
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