Netflix UK film review: The Reagan Show
Victoria Curatolo | On 06, Oct 2017
Directors: Sierra Pettengill, Pacho Velez
Cast: Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev
Watch The Reagan Show online in the UK: Netflix UK / Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / Amazon Instant Video
In 1964, celebrated actor Ronald Reagan retired from the industry he’d known for four decades to run for Governor of California. Three years later, he was elected and a political career was stirring. Up until this point, Reagan had starred in 53 films – including Dark Victory (1939), Kings Row (1942) and The Killers (1964),which would be his final picture – and was notable for his wholesome, all-American portrayals. Interestingly, Reagan was a Democrat for most of his adult life until 1962 when he suddenly switched political parties and the newfound Republican began what is now recognised as rather spurious journey.
In 1981, he was elected 40th President of the United States and has subsequently remained one of the most prolific. His infamous persona and dubious attitude is crossly examined in the new documentary The Reagan Show, directed by Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez. Both filmmakers have a keen interest in political discourse, with Pettengill co-directing the disclosure doc Town Hall in 2013 and Velez co-directing Bastards of Utopia in 2010 – and their first collaboration is no different in its primitive subject matter.
The film opens like a news report, with its retro CNN logo and antique music, but what we then come to is exclusive footage of Reagan preparing for his presidential farewell speech with ABC News’ David Brinkley in December 1981. After watching a rather contrived interview, you soon realise that this is not going to be your typical documentary but more of an uncovering. The Reagan Story is a short documentary running at only 75 minutes, but 70 minutes of that is exclusive archive footage; allowing the viewer to immerse themselves in the true idiosyncrasies and counterfeit qualities that Reagan upheld.
One of the first lines of dialogue that is spoken of Reagan in the film is when he is asked if his experience as an actor had been an advantage or a hindrance, to which the president replied: “There have been times in this office where I wondered how you could do the job if you hadn’t been an actor.” It is moments like this that you’re reminded of the true power of performance (not to mention PR) and how a history in “celebrity” can be a calling card – even in the White House. Was it all just a Hollywood set to Reagan? Or was it all about staging?
Similarly, after addressing the Reykjavík Arms Summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986 – the first meeting between a US president and Soviet leader in six years at the time – footage captures Reagan asking how to pronounce the name of the New Hampshire governor because he’d never even heard of him – let alone said his name before. Moreover, a former employer of Reagan’s speaks candidly on camera about how he was “always out of touch; he was never in charge”. It is scenes like these that spark a feeling of déjà vu and reminds the viewer that Reagan sparks continuous similarities with current president Donald Trump. However, despite this, it’s safe to say that Reagan is nowhere near as unorthodox, contentious and merciless as his successor – successor being the operative word.
The Reagan Show is an interesting exploration of one of America’s most naïve and inexperienced presidents, but the biggest question that crosses your mind throughout is: why now? The film feels less like a feature-length documentary and more like an hour-long exposé, which there’s nothing wrong with – in fact, it merely gets straight to the point – but the question of whether it’s impartial is another story. It’s a timely doc and one that is inherently one-sided but, then again, doesn’t one of the most one-dimensional presidents in US history deserve a one-dimensional portrayal? Maybe in 30 years the same will be said of Trump.
The Reagan Show is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.