A celebrity president who enjoys distracting journalists sits in the White House while the threat of an impending nuclear war looms… You may assume we’re talking about Donald J. Trump but, alas, the subject of The Reagan Show is, of course, Ronald Reagan.
This documentary, composed entirely of news reports and footage from the White House archives, is directed by Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez. It’s a 78 minute peek into the man, the persona, the character that was Ronald Reagan, rather than the seemingly steely-eyed 40th president of the United States of America.
The presentation is refreshing; the film maintains a 4:3 aspect ratio akin to that of cathode ray tube television sets, with clever editing that is accompanied by a great soundtrack. No, the music isn’t memorable, but that’s perfect for a documentary. Crescendos allude to a greater sense of drama or urgency in certain moments, while a playful melody will underline comedic moments scattered thoroughly throughout the film.
Due to Ronald Reagan’s background as a star on the silver screen, many saw him unfit for presidency. Unfazed, he stands his ground when queried about this in interviews, by declaring that being president is merely an act, a show if you will, hence the title of the documentary. The focus on the PR war waged between the USA and the USSR only goes on to further reinforce the idea of Reagan being the star of the world’s most watched reality television show.
The writers, Josh Alexander, Francisco Bello, and Pacho Velez, don’t shy away from depicting Reagan as a bit of a buffoon, and make it clear as to why many disapproved of his leadership. Reagan’s defensive Cold War policies essentially ended the period of detente between the USA and the USSR, pushing the Arms Race forward instead of slowing it down or bringing it to a halt.
The pacing of the film, as noted previously, is set by the great soundtrack and editing. However, these elements can’t save the serious dip at around 50 minutes into the runtime of the documentary. It’s almost as if the whole thing runs into some quicksand and struggles to get out before the credits roll.
Watching Ronald attempt to deliver a statement, looking down in frustration and repeating it multiple times while trying to pronounce a senator’s name to no avail, serves a greater purpose than being comedic relief; it’s a charming, humanising look at Ronald Reagan the man, not the president.
Nancy Reagan, of course, is omnipresent as the driving force behind the presidency. From her prompting whispers to her husband when he forgets his words in the middle of a speech to her stating “I thought I married an actor!” in an interview, she helps to reinforce the foolishness of her husband while simultaneously conveying the human aspects of the film.
Despite losing its footing two thirds into its runtime, The Reagan Show is an enjoyable documentary that offers a different insight into the lives of Ronald and Nancy Reagan during the former’s presidential term. However, if politics, particularly world or American politics, during the 70s and 80s aren’t your cup of tea, this documentary will provide nothing but boredom for you during its brief runtime.