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'Reagan': the president behind the myth

Posted 6:08pm on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011

Exactly 30 years and three days after his inauguration as the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan took center stage at the Sundance Film Festival, as the subject of a new documentary, directed by Eugene Jarecki. Considering that Jarecki had previously won the documentary competition here for his 2005 film Why We Fight, expectations were running high.

And, for the most part, Jarecki delivers. Reagan is a a brisk, intelligent inquiry into facts of the onetime actor’s political life, and how those facts sometimes differ with our more modern notions of him as a morally unimpeachable beacon of righteousness and goodness. Reagan die-hards may take umbrage at certain sections of the film, especially the 15 minutes or so that Jarecki devotes to revisiting the assorted lies and double-dealings of the Iran-Contra scandal.

Most everyone else, though, will likely see this as an even-handed effort that captures the essential paradox of Ronald Reagan -- an avuncular, lovable father figure to the country who nonetheless remained deeply guarded to even those who worked closest to him.

Walking out of the Park City Library, where the film had its world premiere Sunday afternoon, I heard a few folks grumbling that the film offers no new information and sheds no new light on the Reagan presidency. Fair criticisms, both. But as a stock-taking and a history lesson, you could certainly do much worse. And for those in the mood for a trip down 1980s memory lane, well, between the talking heads who populate the film (James Baker, Ron Reagan, “Reagan-omics” architect David Stockman) and the songs on the soundtrack (Once in a Lifetime, Eye of the Tiger and 99 Red Balloons), Reagan is a little bit of retro heaven.

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