Judge Mike Rubino won one for the Gipper.
"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
Not a lot of former presidents get name-dropped. Candidates in next year's general election won't be wishing for a return to Garfield-style economics or Polk-like governance. Heck, you don't even hear much about Bush Sr., Clinton, or Carter. You do, however, hear about Ronald Reagan. His presidency is viewed by party lines the same as any other, but his influence on the world can, to varying degrees, be quite tangible. Reagan, along with Rambo, Rocky, and a bunch Wolverines in Michigan, brought about the demise of the Soviet Union. Right? This new documentary from the History Channel chronicles how he did it, along with his entire run as president, in fairly dramatic fashion.
Reagan is not, by any means, a right-winged, partisan affair. If anything, the doc is presented as a political thriller, meshing together historical events with dramatic interviews and sweeping music. Reagan's presidency was filled with enough theatrics that History Channel didn't have to work hard to keep things moving. The inclusion of some firsthand interviews with reporters Sam Donaldson and Bob Schieffer; former Secretary of State Colin Powell; and secret serviceman Jerry Parr add legitimacy and fairness beyond what the "Reagan experts" can provide.
The most engaging aspect of the 90-minute documentary is its chronology: The film briskly moves through Reagan's election and the first nine weeks of his presidency. Then he gets shot. In a terribly advised ploy to impress Jodie Foster, crazy assassin John Hinkley Jr. fires six shots at the Reagan foot clan shortly after a speech to union reps. As these moments unfold, the documentary flashes back to the president's early days in Illinois. The doc bounces back and forth for the first half hour between assassination events and moments in Reagan's early life as a farmboy, actor, union rep, Democrat, communist buster, and General Electric spokesperson. This "life flashing before his eyes" approach to the editing dishes out Reagan's origin story in quick snippets while moving the drama of his near death experience forward.
After the president returns to office, the doc follows a more standard chronology, moving through Reagan's fiscal wrestling match, his Mondale smackdown, and his battle royale with ageism. The majority of the second act is focused, rightly, on his negotiations with the Soviets. His approach to Russia, Gorbachev, and nuclear disarmament is all handled with seriousness and balance. It would have been nice to hear a little bit more about the Iran-Contra scandal and its resolution, but that's probably the only major event in the documentary that needs some elaboration. Otherwise, it's an engaging and entertaining look at one of America's more influential presidents.
The History Channel DVD is as straightforward as they come. No supplements, basic audio/video setup, and nothing not a single collectable holographic trading card.
Whether you're a fan of the 40th President of the United States of not, Reagan is a worthwhile, informative, and genuinely fascinating documentary from start to finish.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
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