Reagan - Online Review

'a politicised history lesson which, because of its damning rhetoric, is disqualified from carrying the label 'definitive''

Like any documentary which starts out by telling you how everything you previously knew about its subject is wrong, Eugene Jarecki's expose of America's 40th President, Ronald Reagan, puts itself under immediate pressure to deliver the goods and reveal the private man behind the public exterior. To put it bluntly, Jarecki fails in this endeavor. The revered documentary-maker never even comes close to revealing what he feels to be the 'true' Reagan, leaving a film that concludes he was a very 'private and detached' man but not one that is able to summarise what that private and detached man was actually like.

That's not to say that Reagan is a complete failure. Jarecki does a professional and compelling job of tearing down the Ronald Reagan myth which US conservatives hold like a flag-bearer holds a standard. Compelling and honest evidence from Reagan's realist son, Ron, is juxtaposed with evidence from his hero-worshipping son, Michael, the former providing what appears to be both the most honest testimony present in the film and the closest we ever get to seeing the President's persona unguarded. As Republican after Republican trots out his name as a footnote to their point, Jarecki deconstructs the false quoting of his policies and ends up with a well-rounded analysis of what his real legacy as president should perhaps entail.

Equally though, Jarecki can't refrain from a bit of political heckling. He points specifically to the Tea Party movement and Sarah Palin as misrepresenting an icon they supposedly hold dear but then, what's new with that? So Palin doesn't understand her history and often quotes 'facts' that are anything but? There are few people who aren't aware of that and those that aren't are unlikely to be persuaded by a documentary that verges on ultra-critical of the Republicans for a vast amount of its runtime.

What Jarecki ends up with is a politicised history lesson which, because of its damning rhetoric, is disqualified from carrying the label 'definitive'. That said, the director works hard to make Reagan applicable today; there's parallels with Obama's work and popular culture gets more than a mention (Mr Burns is one of the brief talking heads), whilst a blink-and-you'll-miss-it scream from Jon Stewart early on signals both Jarecki's political allegiance and hints that he knows how people feel about politics these days. Jarecki is 'in touch' and the history lesson is easy to swallow. It's just a shame that, even for those of us who agree with him, his politicising isn't as pleasantly diluted.

Reagan was showing at The Sundance Film Festival and is available to watch on the BBC's iplayer until 1st March 2011.

Look further...

'[the] cornerstones of his legacy, which aim to cement him as a traditional conservative role model, prove to be the most compelling paradoxes that Jarecki examines' - The Film Stage, B

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