The filmic equivalent of carving Ronald Reagan's face into Mt. Rushmore, "In the Face of Evil: Reagan's War in Word and Deed" places the 40th President in the guise of anti-Soviet Cold Warrior, leaving aside other issues and perspectives. Early October rollout in Texas markets precedes a regional campaign, but vid's the place to grab the faithful.

The filmic equivalent of carving Ronald Reagan’s face into Mt. Rushmore, “In the Face of Evil: Reagan’s War in Word and Deed” places the 40th President in the guise of anti-Soviet Cold Warrior, leaving aside other issues and perspectives. With partisan p.o.v. being the end-all in current American docu filmmaking, pic fits into the trend as a hardline right-wing view of U.S. and world politics in the 20th century, with Reagan seen as the primary — almost sole — cause for the USSR’s collapse. Early October rollout in Texas markets precedes a regional campaign, but vid’s the place to grab the faithful.

Director and co-writer Stephen K. Bannon (with Julia Jones) has adapted Peter Schweizer’s defense of Reagan, “Reagan’s War,” to make pic an illustrated companion to the tome, including Schweizer as an onscreen participant. Angle is less strictly biographical than ideological-historical, told in a stentorian rhetoric (as forcefully narrated by Irene Zeigler) that will recall for some viewers the uncompromising prose of Ayn Rand. Thus, what will turn off the uncommitted or opponents will excite true believers, with little ground for nuanced historical debate.

Pic launches with democracies defending themselves against what is repeatedly termed “The Beast”: Bolshevism, Fascism, Communism, and Nazism. Bad guys are clearly listed as Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler, Tojo and Stalin, although it’s notable Lenin and Stalin are described and referred to far more frequently than the WWII fascist dictators.

A brief summary of Hollywood studio moguls as super-patriots who had fled the Beast leads somehow directly into Reagan and his minor career onscreen and on the tube. More interesting — and even underdeveloped — is Reagan’s period as president of SAG, and his run-ins with what he believed was a concerted effort (disproven, but unquestioned here) by Communists to take over the studio system.

Many Democrats and Republicans will be deeply upset by pic’s dismissal and diminishment of a string of presidents — starting with JFK on through Jimmy Carter, and including Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. (Oddly, the only glimpse of Dwight D. Eisenhower, a genuine Cold Warrior by any measure, is his famous warning about “the Military-Industrial Complex.”) Kennedy’s moves during the Cuban Missile Crisis are depicted as pure appeasement, while Nixon’s, Ford’s and Carter’s efforts at detente are viewed as virtual surrender.

The systematic way in which Reagan’s White House determined to outspend the USSR on arms as a mean of bankrupting it is viewed by the docu as both strategy and mission, with no question of long-term U.S. budget deficits. A linking of the anti-religious Beast with Al Qaeda in the final reel is highly questionable.

Archival material — especially rare B&W Soviet footage — is a knockout, though the assembly of talking heads, nearly all Reagan loyalists, is predictable and uninspired. Classical music cues on the soundtrack lend a patina of gravitas.

In the Face of Evil: Reagan's War in Word and Deed

Production

A Non-Fiction Films release of an American Vantage Media and Non-Fiction Films presentation of a Leo McWatkins Films and Bannon Films production. Produced by Tim Watkins, Stephen K. Bannon. Executive producer, Peter Schweizer. Co-executive producers, Jennifer Leo Stine, Steve Rodriguez, Matt Smith, Chris Bannon, David C. Schulte. Directed by Stephen K. Bannon. Screenplay, Bannon, Julia Jones, based on the book "Reagan's War" by Peter Schweizer.

Crew

Camera (color, B&W, DV-to-35mm), Tim Matkowsky; editor, Jason Bloom; music, Scott Knight; sound designer, Grahame Davies; line producer, Chris Beutler; associate producers, Jones, Wendy Colbert; assistant director, Tim Watkins. Reviewed on videotape, Los Angeles, Oct. 1, 2004. (In Liberty Film Festival, Los Angeles.) MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 109 MIN.

With

Caspar Weinberger, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Ed Meese, William Clarke, Oleg Kalugin, Stanislav Lunev, Roald Sagdeev, Roger Robinson, David Major, Peter Schweizer.
Narrator: Irene Zeigler.
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