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While the drama of this movie was entertaining, the reality was that
the only people who got their knickers in a twist about this at the
time were the media. In fact, it was only later that the anti-nuclear
crowd, the bow-tied Harvard elite used this as a political opportunity
to question whose finger was really on the trigger, and was the
constitution was being ignored!
For those that look at movies to perform some sort of academic gratification or for those who live for governmental conspiracy theories and anti nuclear messages then this is the stuff for you. While 12 DAYS IN MAY was fiction and JFK stuffed with so many wild theories and ludicrous speculation THE DAY REAGAN WAS SHOT was a factual event that Hollywood has distorted to suggest we were near a nuclear war or a constitutional meltdown. Non of this was true, sure international politics at the time were tense, but the fact of the matter was that as soon as the president is incapacitated the constitutional procedure follows that the vice president takes charge. Al Hague said that he was in charge of the White House that is irrelevant if he has not got access to the nuclear codes that the President and Vice president has.
Interestingly was has been overlooked was that between 1981-1984 the USSR had to replace it's doddering and bedridden premiers three times until they put in Mikhail Gorbachov. Nobody in Hollywood seemed too be worried whose fingers were on the Soviets trigger for all that time bearing in mind some of them were never seen in public for months and were in a comatose state for weeks!!
I saw this film on the History Channel today (in 2006). First of all, I realize that this is not a documentary -- that it is a drama. But, one might hope that at least the critical "facts" that the story turns on might be based on actual events. Reagan was shot and the other characters were real people. The movie got that right. From there on, reliance on facts rapidly decays. I had never heard of this movie before seeing it. Having been a TV reporter at the time of these events, I was stunned that I had never heard anything about the bizarre behavior of Secretary Haig as portrayed by Richard Dreyfuss. The whole nation had heard the "I am in control...", etc., but Dreufuss' Haig is bullying a cowered cabinet and totally out of control personally. Having watched the film, I began researching the subject on the Internet and quickly found actual audio tapes and transcripts of most of the Situation Room conversations that this film pretends to reenact. Incredibly, many the the principal "facts" of the film meant to show a White House, Secret Service etc. in total chaos -- and the nation's leadership behaving irrationally and driving the world near the brink of nuclear war -- are demonstrably incorrect. They didn't happen! There is internal conflict, to be sure. Haig makes missteps, his press room performance is historically regrettable and he is "difficult". But there is nothing approaching the scenes depicted in the film. There are too many gross errors to list, but any fair comparison of the recorded and written record and the fantasy of this film begs the question as to what the producers were really trying to accomplish. Enlighten? Inform? Entertain? I believe they failed on all three fronts. It is difficult to ascribe motives to others, but one must seriously question what was behind such shameless invention. And, as for my beloved History Channel's "Reel to Real" follow-on documentary, there was almost no mention of the issues that were the central focus of the film -- namely the events within the Administration on the day of the shooting. So, the viewer was left to research those without much -- if any -- help from the network.
This semi-docudrama is really two films in one. The first concerns the
infamous 1981 shooting of President Ronald Reagan and the valiant
efforts to save his life. The second relays the power struggle among
White House staff while the most powerful man in the world lay under
Despite the fascinating subject matter, THE DAY REAGAN WAS SHOT often falls flat, playing like a cobbled together movie of the week. Writer-director Cyrus Nowrasteh spends far too much time on the ego trips of Secretary of State Alexander Haig (a semi-annoying Richard Dreyfuss), failing to fully explore the more human angles as a nation sat with bated breath. What should have been a subplot with Haig dominates the movie. It would have been nice to see more of the doctors handed this enormous task; more of Nancy Reagan, the beloved First Lady; and more of the behind-the-scenes details, such as the ailing president signing a dairy bill to prove he was still in charge. The dialog is unimaginative and some of the performances resemble those of actors fresh from acting school.
There is a great movie to be made about the chaos within government when its leader is sidelined. But with its dual personality, THE DAY REAGAN WAS SHOT isn't it.
Cinemagraphically, this movie is absolutely dreadful. I've seen better
and make-up in junior high productions. Particularly laughable is the
national TV news anchor who appears to be reporting from a secretary's
in the basement of the CBS building. The acting is marginal at best, with
some good performances in places but overall simply average, and marred
further by the fact that almost none of the actors bear any physical
resemblance to the people they are playing.
Despite the fact that he lent his name to this (as "Executive Producer"), the film bears no Oliver Stone trademarks. Say what you will about Stone's political / social agenda, he knows how to make movies. I'm surprised he would allow himself to be associated with such an amateurish TV movie that bears none of his imprint (slick editing; flashbacks; tight plot).
Apart from accuracy (which I'll get to in a minute), the film is also marred by pointless dialogue and scenes. No self-respecting doctor would beg off emergency surgery simply because of political differences; anyone who even entertained that thought should lose his license. Likewise, there's no way they would have allowed such blatant contamination in the operating room (the secret service agent with the *machine gun* in the OR had me in stitches -- what's he going to DO with the gun, anyway? -- never mind the constant traffic in and out by government agents and officials).
I was 11 when Reagan was shot and I remember it vividly. I even have the TIME magazine from that week, not to mention a number of books on Reagan. So I'm fairly well qualified to speak to the film's accuracy. Funnily enough, allowing for some dramatic license, it's actually not that far-fetched. We don't know what went on behind the scenes at the White House or at the Hospital. It's doubtful that Haig was as aggressive as depicted, and the missile attack is entirely overwrought. The press was not as belligerent as depicted, and nobody insisted on taking a minicam up to the recovery room to verify that the president was still alive; nor did Nancy force him to sign anything or Deaver insist on taking pictures. What we do know is this:
- There was a great deal of chaos and confusion within the government, including retrieving the VP from his trip in Texas.
- Haig did appear on national TV and try to convince the world (not all that successfully) that he was "in control" at the White House pending the VP's return.
- There was confusing information coming out of the Hospital, including Brady's reported death and other items not even mentioned in the movie (Lyn Nofziger reported that Reagan was having "open-heart surgery" as opposed to "open-chest surgery" -- a big difference!)
- Jack Paar (the secret service chief who pushed Reagan into the car) did, in fact, save Reagan's life by taking him to the Hospital; and Reagan was a lot closer to death than people (outside the Hospital) realized at the time, due to many of the factors mentioned in the movie.
- The opening scenes that depict Reagan meeting with his staff are also fairly accurate (although the cartoonish depiction of William Casey is rather offensive; his debilitating strokes did not occur until later in the administration). Reagan, as he (Crenna) says, was not interested in the details. This is, IMHO, to his credit as a leader and as a president, although others would differ. It was, if nothing else, a sharp contrast to the Carter years, a reference Reagan makes in the movie.
To my knowledge, there's never been any assertion of "conspiracy" in the Reagan shooting as there is with JFK. It's pretty obvious what happened, and that Hinckley acted alone. Lacking such a premise, the filmakers can only compensate by ratcheting up the drama, in which they stretch the truth, but not to the breaking point. Thus, it's an interesting movie to watch if you accept all this, but hardly something for the historical record.
Finally, I wonder if Ronald Reagan and Richard Crenna knew each other when they were together in Hollywood in the 1960's. I'd be interested to know the answer to this. Sadly, I can't ask either of them, but maybe Nancy knows...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film was not a bad made for TV movie. It doesn't seem that all the facts are being put out during some scenes in the film. Richard Dryfuss is well placed as Al Haig. Same as Richard Crenna and Holland Taylor. And some of the side actors such as Beau Starr and Michael Murphy do fine as well. But the screenplay seems faulty at times, and you can tell it is a made for TV movie. You can also tell that Oliver Stone was involved in the project. The actors were right for this film, but the director and producers should have handled a different kind of film. Not an historical one. Don't buy it on DVD, either rent it or wait till it's back on the History Channel. HAs some f-bombs, that's the worst of the R rating.
Now, I don't want to beat up on Al, but one fun fact was that Haig had just lost an administration internal feud on the management of crisis management room. Reagan decided that the VP should be in charge, when the President was away, or when there was nothing that required immediate presidential notice. (Remember, George Bush had been the Director of the C.I.A. AND he could stand above the cabinet officers like State and Defense when a decision had to be made.) Well, Bush was out of the country on a government trip. Now, there was some brief fear that the former 4 star general didn't like being looked over. Well, as one commentator said a few days later: Thank goodness Secretary Haig was nervous when he went in to the White House briefing room and stated "I'm in charge."
Although the makers of the film used the usual disclaimer of part of the film being "fictionalized", it was apparent they were passing it off as factual. I was surprised and somewhat angered at the sloppiness in one key scene, where Haig is upbraided for misquoting the constitution. In the scene they give Haig a copy of the 25th amendment. However, nowhere in the amendment is reference made to the order of succession beyond the vice president. In fact, the Presidential Succession Act, passed in 1947, and not a part of the constitution, defines the order of succession. This is easily researched and shows a lack of apreciation of history on the part of the film makers. Come on, gentlemen, let's be more careful.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie was so comical I couldn't help but wonder how true the preposterousness of all of the events were. VP George Bush scared to take control? Haig that cutthroat, and at the same time as bitchy as a little school girl? The Secret Service men THAT inept to let that 'failed medical student' THAT close to Reagan? The Secret Service men and the FBI getting into catfights about Reagan's clothes? The phones in the 'crisis control center' not working? Nancy Reagan & Co. trying to get a picture of Reagan smiling to ease the press/public? LOL!! I've NEVER seen the gov't bend over backwards in a movie for the press like they did here. If half of the stuff depicted in this movie is true, it just goes to show how pathetic the government was in handling all of this.
As a movie it kept me entertained....its an interesting outlook on the events. The moviemakers have us by the jockstrap because no one really knows what went on in the White House & at George Washington hospital. But the events depicted just shows the US as a pretty pathetic institution, especially in times of crisis when its needed to be in total control. As I said, if half of the events that happened here are true, its just another blemish on the ever fading image of the US government.
**1/2 out of **** stars.
One of the fundamental issues in social life is the difference between
the real life we lead and the way we see ourselves behaving, the
difference between substance and perception.
The crisis here involved maintaining the perception that all was hunky dory.
Well, there were clips of the shooting repeatedly shown on TV so the incident couldn't readily be denied outright. But Reagan was reported walking unaided into GWH and joking with the medical staff, so he was perfectly all right except maybe with an injured rib or something. Brady was clearly in bad shape but we heard much less about him, and even less about the other victims. Reagan was always in good shape, never in danger, and was seen waving from the hospital window with that marvelous grin, back at work in no time.
That was the perception we were handed by governmental spokesmen and a media happy to oblige. The substance was that Reagan was quite seriously injured, with a bullet lodged between his collapsed lung and his heart. A seventy-year-old man, he didn't respond readily to treatment and took months to recover. During part of that time of course he was narcotized and no longer in control of the government or anything else. The "football" which could start a nuclear war was taken by the FBI, who refused to turn it over to anyone except Vice President Bush, who was incommunicado, and then only when so authorized by the AG. Alexander Haigue, Secretary of State, seems to have promptly taken over the reins but was challenged by a number of other members of the cabinet. (As a result, nobody knew who, if anyone, was "minding the store.") The code card that activated the football had been left in a wallet in Reagan's pants, which had been thrown into a hospital laundry hamper. The reason the Vice President was incommunicado was that the phones didn't work. Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Defense, raised the defcom level on his own, leading the USSR to believe that perhaps we blamed them for the shooting and were about to strike back. There is an illuminating exchange between Hague and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs during these arguments. Hague: "Can the Soviet Union launch a first strike?" Chairman: "Yes, they can." Hague: "How do we stop it?" Chairman: "Launch a first strike." VP Bush wasn't much help in clarifying things, refusing to take over as Acting President partly because his doing so would look in the press as an admission that Reagan was incapacitated (which of course he was).
That was the substance. But sometimes, through perfectly ordinary mistakes, the perception that was prepared for the public ("Everything's just fine") was contradicted. Alexander Hague got his line of succession wrong on TV in public. It had been changed in the late 1960s and he gave the earlier version. That statement shook up the press a bit, but as an error it was strictly minor league compared to what was going on behind the scenes.
You don't really need to be a conspiracy theorist to see with what condescension the public is treated by powerful political figures and, with some exceptions, by the press. As things fall apart and the center is in danger of not holding, as the formal norms fail to be observed, as the substance becomes rent with disagreement and disbelief, a perception is gradually agreed upon that will be handed to the public. It doesn't have to be true (it doesn't even have to be compellingly believable) but it has to be as soothing as a dose of Pepto-Bismol otherwise the great unwashed, whose intelligence is far too low to manage the complexities involved in understanding the substance, will panic.
The movie is, as I say, pretty well done. Dreyfus is a much more commanding figure than Hague appeared to be in interviews, but he did miss one outstanding moment in this real-life drama. It had to do exclusively with perception, not substance. In trying to calm the TV audience by saying that everything is proceeding normally, and "I'm in charge now," the most dramatic impression wasn't so much that he'd gotten the line of succession wrong. (Hardly anybody in the audience recognized the mistake because they didn't know the line of succession themselves.) The most persistent memory of that announcement was that Hague was an absolute nervous wreck, sweaty, shaking, his voice quavering. It projected an image of anything BUT normality. Cap Weinberger comes across as a thoughtless and impulsive hawkishly-bent bureaucrat, which is pretty close to an accurate picture of the man. He hated "welfare" when he was at what was then called The Department of Health Education and "Welfare". (Now it's called The Department of Health and "Human Services". You see my point about substance and perception.)
Small point. The "devastator bullets" that Hinckley used would never explode during removal. There was no question of their being dangerous after having been fired. The point this movie makes is a much larger one, going beyond even the question of the succession to the presidency.
I was in 4th grade when Reagan was shot. I remember all my teachers crying and we went home early. This film brought back a lot of memories. I liked it a lot. Things were added for drama but the 15 minute short afterwards explains all of that. This is a solid drama mixing fact with Hollywood. It is 20 times better than "Pearl Harbor" and 1,000 times better than "Titanic".
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