24 October 2016 | classicalsteve
A Well-Acted Depiction of What Could Have Been Another Dallas, November 22, 1963
In the 19th century, stories abound of President Abraham Lincoln walking down the streets of Washington D.C., unworried about his safety, even though several million southern soldiers were pledged to kill him. (Alexander Gardner had taken what turned out to be Lincoln's last photograph, and the president had walked to the photo studio.) The Secret Service did not yet exist, and when it was inaugurated two months after Lincoln's assassination, it was not an operation to protect the president, but a federal investigatory unit to combat currency counterfeiting. One hundred years later, particularly after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, ensuring the safety of the US President became a 24/7 job. What changed? Probably the biggest difference is the president's perpetual presence in national and international media, in the newspapers but mostly on television. Interestingly, television and film actors have the same problem: because of hyped media, there are people in the world, some of whom are not playing with a full deck, who become obsessed with media figures.
The made-for-cable film, "Killing Reagan", focuses on the events just before, during and after John Hinckley (Kyle S. More) attempted to assassinate then US President Ronald Reagan outside a Hilton Hotel in Washington D.C. only two months into his presidency in 1981. Hinckley was a disturbed young man not obsessed with Reagan per se, but instead with actress Jodi Foster. He was also obsessed with the film "Taxi Driver" starring Robert De Niro and also a very young Jodi Foster in a supporting role. In the film, the protagonist Travis Bickle fantasizes about plotting the assassination of a presidential candidate. Hinckley convinced himself that he could win over Foster's admiration by killing President Reagan, which given Foster's attitudes towards tougher gun restrictions, seems at face value absurd. However, stalkers live in their own "truth".
The film mainly reveals much of the behind-the-scenes activity surrounding the assassination attempt which came very close to being a replay of Dallas in November, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed by deranged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald was 24 when he killed Kennedy (and was killed shortly thereafter by a local nightclub owner, Jack Ruby), and Hinckley was 25 when he shot Reagan. According to the film, Hinckley had been "stalking" President Carter during his reelection campaign, again probably inspired by "Taxi Driver". He moves to New Haven, CT, where Foster was an undergraduate, and constantly calls her and sends her postcards and letters. However, Hinckley's moves are never reciprocated, only rebuffed.
On the other side of the tracks is President Ronald Reagan (Tim Matheson in a convincing performance) and Nancy Reagan (Cynthia Nixon in what could be an Emmy-nominated performance) and their cabinet heads. What the public may not have known is how close another US President came to dying in office not two decades from the last time. In a split-second decision that influenced world history in the wake of the attempt, Jerry Parr (Joe Chrest), after noticing the president coughing up blood, changed the direction of the car from the White House to George Washington University Hospital, which was less than 4 minutes from the Hilton. Even when Reagan entered the hospital, it wasn't certain he would live, as the surgery to remove the bullet turned out to be far more problematic than anticipated. Some contradictory reports had been issued by the press, at first that Reagan had not been hit but later that he had. While in surgery, several of Reagan's cabinet members bicker about who is in charge, since then Vice President George HW Bush was in Air Force Two in Texas.
A good cast tells a very compelling and interesting story about one of the scariest episodes of the 1980's. Many who were alive at the time remember vividly the assassination of John F. Kennedy which, for some of them like my parents, seemed not that long in the past. I hadn't been born when JFK was assassinated, but I was in Junior High School at the time of Reagan's brush with death, and I remember where I was when I heard the news of the shooting. Although it didn't receive nearly as much publicity, President Barack Obama was shot at during his first term in office on the presidential balcony at the White House. The shot completely missed but only by inches. If there's anything which can be said of holding the office of US President, it's a dangerous job.