STORY WRITTEN BY ROB LOWMAN
Southern California News Group
If nothing else, the TV movie “Killing Reagan” — airing on the National Geographic Channel — adheres to the laborious approach taken in its other adaptations of Bill O’Reilly’s novels.
The Fox News host’s other books have dealt with the crucifixion of Jesus and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln. Unlike those events, President Ronald Reagan survived the attempt to kill him.
There is nothing new in “Killing Reagan” from filmmaker Rod Lurie.Beginning during the 1980 presidential campaign, the film shows John Hinckley Jr. (Kyle S. More) already stalking Reagan, who’s played by Tim Matheson. The actor does a fair folksy impression of Reagan, but he is given little else to do. Cynthia Nixon plays Nancy, whom Reagan disconcertingly called “Mommy.”
The story then cuts back and forth between Reagan’s triumph in the election and move into the White House, and Hinckley growing more and more unhinged. As aides jockey for positions of power, especially Secretary of State Gen. Alexander Haig (Patrick St. Esprit), Reagan stays above the fray. Meanwhile, his would-be assassin becomes more obsessed with impressing Jodie Foster, stalking her and finally trying to kill Reagan.
His attempt ended up wounding the President from a ricochet bullet. White House Press Secretary James Brady (Geoff Pierson) was hit in the head. A Secret Service agent — who took a bullet protecting Reagan — and a Washington policeman were also shot.
In a perfunctory manner, Lurie documents the confusion and misinformation that follow as no one seems sure what to do as Reagan heads to surgery. We see him in the hospital, famously telling Nancy he “forgot to duck.”
What will likely be the most controversial part of the movie is its slapdash last 20 minutes or so as Nancy consults an astrologer to plan her husband’s schedule. Meanwhile, it’s hinted that Reagan thought he was spared in order to make peace with the Soviets. There is also a suggestion of the toll that the attempted assassination will take on the president, although it doesn’t go as far as O’Reilly’s book in indicating that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease before leaving office.
It then throws in some highlights of the Reagan presidency. Better to read a book — not O’Reilly’s — but a real history of the man’s life.