Judge Patrick Naugle wonders how the heck the husband of a famous liberal can get away with playing Ronald Reagan. Why, that would be like Max Von Sydow playing Jesus in one movie and Satan in another!
The film they didn't want you to see!
If you grew up in the 1980s, you don't need much of an explanation of who Ronald and Nancy Reagan are. A former matinee idol on the silver screen, Ronald Reagan (portrayed by a terrific James Brolin, Catch Me If You Can) rose through the ranks of politics to become one of America's most celebrated and beloved presidents. Combining homespun charm and his patented "Reaganomics," Ronnie guided the United States through the 1980s and into the Clinton era. His wife, on the other hand, was not always looked upon so kindly—Nancy Reagan (played with icy coldness by Judy Davis, The Ref) was often criticized for such maneuvers as redecorating the White House when the country was in a financial tailspin. Ronald and Nancy's children—including headstrong Ron, Jr. (Shad Hart), rebellious Patti (Zoie Palmer, Godsend), and family man Michael (Tom Barnett)—find themselves thrust into the spotlight as well as at odds with their famous, well-to-do parents. As Ronald's eight years as President of the United States pass, he finds himself facing a critical public, the Iran-Contra scandal, and in the "sunset of his life," a debilitating disease that will test both he and Nancy's love for one another.
Being a child of the '80s, I was more than a little curious to see what The Reagans was all about. The late Ronald Reagan's presidency seems like a long time ago—in my mind he didn't seem like the President, but a kindly old man who was pushing our country into good places. Of course, I was only ten years old and didn't understand the difference between the word "pair" and "pear," so what did I know?
The Reagans met with initial controversy when network executives didn't like the way the film portrayed the famous couple (he a doddering old man, she a controlling bitch). The president of CBS even went so far as to say that the film was overly political for the station's tastes. In the end, The Reagans ended up premiering on Showtime, and has now been given a DVD release for those who wanted to see what the hubbub is about. But is the movie any good?
That The Reagans is an accurate portrayal of Nancy and Ronnie I cannot say. What I can tell you is that the film is entertaining, clipping along even with a three-hour run time. While there are scenes involving political discussions with various Reagan aides and advisors (including Michael Deaver, Bud McFarlane, and John Sears, played by Full House alumnus John Stamos), much of the film is about Nancy and Ronnie's romance and life together. The film doesn't paint Nancy in the best light—Judy Davis stalks around screen as Ronald's loyal follower and keeper, and little else. Davis's performance is powerful, if a bit one-sided (the movie seems to think that Nancy's only warm spot were four burners on top of her oven). James Brolin as the President is exceptional—he truly embodies what Reagan was like. Brolin's brilliant performance—capturing Reagan's iconic gestures and mannerisms—is deserving of an Emmy nomination, if not a win.
I don't know a lot about Reagan's personal life, except the bits and pieces I've read about in the news or heard on TV. While the movie is entertaining, it does seem to be slightly harsh on the Reagan women; Patti Davis (Reagan) is portrayed as little more than an angry, pot smoking woman who could not care less about her family. A little more balanced portrayal of her and Nancy would have, I think, give the film a much more emotional center. As it stands, coldness permeates the film, due mostly to Davis's portrayal.
With Ronald Reagan's passing, there has been renewed interest in the former President. In the past decade, the "Great Communicator" has been lionized as a man of strong convictions, good morals, and a warm sense of humor. The Reagans isn't a movie that will thrill the Reagan family, and probably has all the accuracy of a Nerf football. But if you're looking for an entertaining movie about America's history, The Reagans delivers.
The Reagans is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Lions Gate has done a great job of making sure this transfer is in good order. I'm glad to see a TV movie in 16x9 widescreen—the aspect ratio gives the film a grander feel. The colors and black levels are all solidly rendered without any major defects in the image. Grain and dirt is noticeably absent. The only real flaw I noticed included a few areas where edge enhancement is present. Otherwise, this very good-looking transfer should please viewers.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround in English. This isn't what I'd consider a great sound mix, though it isn't half bad. There are a few instances where all of the speakers are engaged, most notably during any passages where John Altman's music score is prominently displayed. Otherwise, the music, dialogue, and effects are all well heard without any distortion in the mix. Also included on this disc is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Soundtrack in English. No optional subtitles are available.
The Reagans isn't jam packed with extra features, though a few have been included to whet fan's appetites. The best is an interview with actor James Brolin ("James Brolin on Being a Republican") discussing not only the film and his role, but also his political background. A fairly dry commentary track with executive producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron and director Allan Ackerman sheds a bit of light on the production, casting, and controversy the film encountered. Finally, there are some extended scenes that were cut from the film for various reasons.
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