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Written by on January 27, 2011 

Of all the presidents in the last 30 years, none seem to evoke the same level of iconic recognition as Ronald Reagan. In Eugene Jarecki‘s (Why We Fight) insightful documentary Reagan, the talented filmmaker dissects the myth behind the legendary political figure. Breaking down the history of each chapter in his life with commentary from a multitude of politicians and people who knew him personally, Jarecki weaves together an intimate portrait of a complex personality. The highlight with this documentary is the revelation of subtle characteristics in Reagan’s persona that shaped the man who became one of Americas most loved presidents.

Beginning with his early life as a near sighted small town lifeguard, the stories in Reagan paint a different picture than what you might expect from the 40th president. There are the obligatory stories of Reagan’s acting career that give perspective on why his public persona was so damn charming. It also examines and dissects some of his trademark policies and philosophies, in particular the creation of Reagonomics and his obsession with the Star Wars defense program. Jarecki successfully skewers these policies as being not so brilliant, casting a shadow over those who try and quote them in contemporary times.

One of the most intriguing interviews is with Ron Reagan Jr., who offers valuable details to what it was like growing up in the Reagan household. It’s also interesting to see the conflicts in what he preached, including the fact that he wanted less government when actually increasing the size of government before he left office. These 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. I only wish that the film had focused more on that, since it’s clearly the most interesting conversation the film illicits. Otherwise, Reagan is a solid straightforward and in-depth look at one of Americas most misunderstood political figures.

Reagan will have its broadcast premiere on HBO this February 7th, 2011.

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