The 30th of March, 1981, the delusional John Hinckley Jr. tries to kill president Ronald Reagan. His life hangs on a thin thread at the hospital, while the Soviet Union is ready to invade a ... Read allThe 30th of March, 1981, the delusional John Hinckley Jr. tries to kill president Ronald Reagan. His life hangs on a thin thread at the hospital, while the Soviet Union is ready to invade a Poland on the brink of a revolution. Based on actual events during the final stages of the... Read allThe 30th of March, 1981, the delusional John Hinckley Jr. tries to kill president Ronald Reagan. His life hangs on a thin thread at the hospital, while the Soviet Union is ready to invade a Poland on the brink of a revolution. Based on actual events during the final stages of the cold war.
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...
- Nov 25, 2003