77 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing and engrossing
When Anthony Hopkins was cast as Richard Nixon in Oliver Stone's bio of the 37th President, many were leery of the casting choice. I myself pictured Hopkins doing a combination of Nixon and Hannibal Lecter: "I'm not a crook -- and if anyone thinks so, I'll eat their liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti .... SLURP!!" However, Hopkins does do a marvelous job and...
Published on November 8, 2004 by Michael K. Beusch
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Stone's best effort
Any effort to explore the complex psychology of our esteemed thirty-seventh president, Richard Milhous Nixon, in a single motion picture is sure to run into some difficulties. Scholars, commentators, and all around miscreants have spent years and used up entire forests of paper in an effort to understand Richard Nixon. Born into a poor family from California, Nixon...
Published on February 18, 2004 by Jeffrey Leach
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77 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing and engrossing,
When Anthony Hopkins was cast as Richard Nixon in Oliver Stone's bio of the 37th President, many were leery of the casting choice. I myself pictured Hopkins doing a combination of Nixon and Hannibal Lecter: "I'm not a crook -- and if anyone thinks so, I'll eat their liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti .... SLURP!!" However, Hopkins does do a marvelous job and disappears into the role without becoming a standup comedian's caricature. Even though Nixon does and says vile things throughout the film, the audience still has sympathy for the character -- even those like me who found the real Richard Nixon dispicable.
Stone portrays Nixon as a tragic figure who had the intelligence and the electoral mandate to elevate himself and his administration to greatness, but let it all slip away by becoming bogged down in the quagmire of Watergate. Nixon complains incessantly about how the Kennedys are everything he is not. However, it becomes clear that his hatred of the Kennedys is based as much on his loathing of himself as on any real scorn shown him by the "Eastern establishment."
Stone, as in JFK, takes certain liberties with Nixon's story and acknowledges as much in a disclaimer before the story begins. Even those who believe President Kennedy was assassinated as the result of a conspiracy, for example, would find it hard to believe that Richard Nixon was involved, even tacitly, in the plot to kill JFK. Stone also takes liberties with his portrayal of Richard and Pat Nixon's marital relationship. Even though some incidents are no doubt true, it's pretty clear that some scenes between the two are conjecture on Stone's part.
However, these are minor quibbles. Nixon is a penetrating, engrossing biography that both portrays him as a ruthless, vicous, paranoic lunatic and a character who elicits sympathy from the audience. The supporting cast is amazing and includes James Woods, Mary Steenburgen, Ed Harris, David Hyde Pierce, Annabeth Gish, Kevin Dunn, J.T. Walsh, Powers Booth, Paul Sorvino, Edward Herrmann, Larry Hagman, Dan Hedeya, Tony LoBianco, Bob Hoskins, E.G. Marshall, David Paymer, Tony Goldwyn, Fuyvush Finkel and Saul Rubinek. However, the standout supporting player is Joan Allen as Pat Nixon who is a dead ringer for the former First Lady. Allen's portrayal shows the emotional pain Mrs. Nixon endured behind the seemingly placid facade she presented to the American public. Coupled with Hopkins' Nixon, it's an acting tour de force that carries the film.
After all the vile things he does during the course of the film, Nixon, the night before his resignation, is reduced to staring at a portrait of his idolized archenemy John F. Kennedy and proclaiming that "... when they look at you, they see what they want to be. When they look at me, they see what they are." Even the most die-hard member of Nixon's enemies' list can't help but feel pity for Richard Nixon during this scene. It's a great achievement by Oliver Stone to make this bitter, corrupt and wretched man worthy of the audience's sympathy at the same time we disdain him.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The American equivalent of a Greek tragedy,
This review is from: Nixon [VHS] (VHS Tape)
What infuriates all those apologists and fanatical supporters of Richard Nixon out there is that Oliver Stone supposedly has an axe to grind about their man by making a film like NIXON. They assumed a lot, but didn't even bother to see the film.
The truth is that NIXON is much more even-handed in its portrayal of the 37th President of the United States than I thought it could be. Anthony Hopkins gives a reasonably fair portrayal of Nixon, and Joan Allen is tremendous as his wife Pat. Although Stone's penchant for conspiracy does get the better of him at times, he sees Nixon as more a tragic victim than as an evil power-monger, a vision that is closer to the truth than what Nixon's enemies made him out to be in reality.
Stone wisely does not gloss over the simple facts about the man. Nixon was indisputably a great and cagey anticommunist politician who managed to split the Sino-Soviet communist alliance in two and thus promote stability in the Cold War world for years to come. But he left a lot to be desired as a human being, being paranoid, distrustful, deceitful, and, in the end, blatantly dishonest. In that sense, the saga of Richard Nixon ranks as the American equivalent of a Greek tragedy: so much explosive potential destroyed by scandal.
As in JFK, Stone has assembled a massive cast of people: Ed Harris, Bob Hoskins, J.T. Walsh, and James Woods, just to name a few. Despite its few faults, NIXON is a fair portrait of perhaps the most frustrating and complicated man ever to reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "This is god-damned Disneyland....",
By A Customer
Oliver Stone's fascinating insight into the Nixon administration is not for everyone's delight. The closest thing to a "JFK" sequal, 'Nixon' rolls all the players into a ball of naughtiness & takes it from there. Hard to keep up with if un-familiar with the facts surrounding the 'watergate-scandal', but if you know your homework it's alot of fun. Superb casting,I must say, Stone started this epic right after "Natural Born Killers" so it has all the internal flare of film-making. Immense enjoyment on DVD, this film IS very under-rated,losing 'Best Picture' oscar to Mel Gibson's "Braveheart"... you can see how not everybody wants this film around in the long-run. Thumbs up!
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Oliver Stone's Richard the Third,
Oliver Stone's "Nixon" isn't really the cinematic biography of American Commander-in-Chief and Paranoid Extraordinaire Richard M. Nixon, but more like a latter day "Richard III". Stone need only have given the ogrish Nixon (played fascinating and disturbingly by the gifted Anthony Hopkins) a hunchback and had him kill a few kids in the Tower of London to have completed the deal.
I am a big Nixon fan, if only for his strangeness, for his political eccentricity in a political system where only the bland, the smiling, the sound-biteable, the contempibly predictable is rewarded. Nixon, to me, has always seemed like an anachronistic creation of pure will, a force of random Brownian motion, a misunderstood Machiavellian demon, hopelessly paranoid, unmistakably brilliant, brutally deformed, unequivocally human, a misshapen creature.
Stone turns that on its head, and suggests that at worst Nixon may just have been naive. Driven, yes. Ambitious, yes. Duplicitous, only when it suited him. But naive. And that, truly, is the fascination with this lavish little probe into the mind and madness that was Richard Nixon, and the insanity that was the America he helmed. Oliver Stone's "Nixon" is flawed, oddly talky, features an impossibly gorgeous Joan Allen as the impossibly dowdy Pat Nixon. But with all that against it, it is compulsive. It is fascinating. It kept me up all night, for all 212 of its minutes (get the Director's cut). Can more be said?
Perhaps. Stone, who helmed "Natural Born Killers" and "Wall Street" and "JFK", is incapable of making a bad moviek, and "Nixon" is no exception. But like those other cinematic feats, Stone has a peculiar knack for glorifying his monsters: "Wall Street" became nothing so much as a Wall Street investment banking recruiting video for finance neophytes frothing at the mouth to become the next Gordon Gekko. "Natural Born Killers" made mass murder look sexy.
Same with "Nixon": far from a gnomish American Machiavelli, Nixon comes across as a sympathetic dupe, manipulated by his Quaker California youth, by his hopeless class insecurity, by the very real fear and lack of confidence made manifest in this sweating middle class creature, contrasted unseemingly with the sweatless WASP Prince John F. Kennedy.
"Nixon", then, is surprisingly sympathetic, a toxic stew of Nixon's paranoia and the insanity over which he ruled. Stone is a brilliant director, but he is capable of terrible stuff: here an editor is called for, and the team of Brian Berdan ("Mothman Prophecies") and Hank Corwin ("Natural Born Killers") cull the bad stuff while emphasizing the good. Director of Photography Robert Richardson, who loves MTV-quick cuts juxtaposed with ethereal, epic, jaw-dropping long shots (he has rolled out all of Stone's work---all of it!---"Natural Born Killers", "JFK", "Wall Street", "Platoon"---and gone on to helm both "Kill Bill" flicks as well as "Wag the Dog" and the lush Victorian "Four Feathers") does that voodoo he does so well.
Frankly, though, "Nixon" is an actor's movie. The acting is nearly uniformly superb, with the exception of Joan Allen (Pat Nixon, Nixon's dearly beloved), who was yummy to behold but totally failed the sniff test. Anthony Hopkins doesn't look a thing like Tricky Dick, but totally owns the movie and compels respect: and what a complicated role! James Woods does his thing as Haldeman, sneering and brooding the whole time. The late great J.T. Walsh brings up the rear as the crafty Erlichmann. David Hyde Pierce is nervous and spot-on as John Dean, though John Diehl is underwhelming as the legendary GG Liddy.
But again, this is an actor's Nirvana: Paul Sorvino as Kissinger (pure caricature)! Bob Hoskins as the cruel J. Edgar Hoover! Ed Harris as the murderous Howard Hunt! Uber-liberal Sam Waterston as the truly demonic (I mean truly demonic) Richard Helms (love the contacts, bro!). And best of all, the inimitable, tightly contained Powers Boothe as Alexander Haig, always in "charge here", always ready to blow. Did I mention the score is by John Williams? I didn't? It works (duh!).
"Nixon" is one of Stone's masterworks, easily rivalling "JFK" for pure consumptive paranoid entertainment. Absolute power may not corrupt absolutely, but it sure does entertain---absolutely.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great film-making, good history,
While Oliver Stone has many times given into historic speculation and wild theorizing, his unflinching love for controversy has always had my respect. With "Nixon", however, Stone largely sticks to the certifiable historical record, perhaps in response to the Kafka-esque damnation of "JFK." Nixon comes through in this film as I'm sure he was in actuality: a manipulative, conniving political genius, albeit a seriously disturbed one. Nixon as a pill-popping alcoholic? Such a stretch you say? Read the recollections of Haldeman and Erlichman, not to menton Kissinger, who constantly make reference to Nixon's chemical dependancy and mental instability. Actcally as history, "Nixon" works quite well. Sure there are embelishments for the sake of time: the "Jack Jones" character, for instance. But we would be foolhardy, not to mention dead wrong, to ignore the role of big money in the election of Nixon in '68 and '72. The supposedly "wild" ssumptions Stone makes about Nixon and his paranoia about the JFK killing? Once again, read Haldeman's own account, in which he speculates that Nixon's constant references to the "Bay of Pigs" was a "code" for JFK. (The Bay of Pigs operation was inherited by Kennedy from the Eisenhower White House, and who had been its handler then? Nixon.) I don't want to turn this into a rant, but I sincerely challenge Nixon defenders to actually go back and READ the history, which has become even more starkly clear since Nixon's death and the release of de-classified Watergate tapes. Like Welles and Kubrick, Stone is a man ahead of his time, and doomed to suffer condemnation by phillistines on both sides of the aisle. But his films only gain relevance, and furthemore, truth, as years pass.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb film,
After having read many of the illuminative posts on this film I feel compelled to keep my comments here short as many of my positive thoughts on this film have already been touched upon.
I simply want to state that "Nixon" is a superb film, an intriguing, contentious interpretation of American history which, in my humble opinion, will eventually be understood as a classic.
What can be said that has not been said except that Stone's analysis of his title character is potent, touching, and altogether surprising. Stone does not vilify Nixon, but characterizes Nixon as a fundamentally good individual who is eventually corrupted by the trappings of power and that when Nixon falls it is tragic for all the positive that has gone unfulfilled. Nixon is presented as a three dimensional character and the film challenges us to weigh the evils committed against the expanse of Nixon's life. What emerges is an intriguing problematic: judgement is problematized.
Stone has done a fascinating thing, for every potently evil Nixon moment we are given moments of pain, humility, and moral strength and an impression (the Jack Jones scene) that Nixon had the potential, as a Republican, to stand up and confront the extreme right wing elements of the American political landscape. Stone implies that some sort of radical moment was at hand in American history, a moment that Nixon undermined by his own actions.
Nixon is a complex, long, and ultimately confrontational film. Stone has made the best sort of cinematic biography, one that challenges your views regardless of what they are politically.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Man We Loved to Hate,
This review is from: Nixon - The Election Year Edition (DVD)
I'm an old hand at hating Richard Nixon. I had a head start over Oliver Stone at Nixon-hating; I was already adept at it in 1960, when Stone was just an early teenager. Stone's cinematic biography of Nixon insistently portrays Nixon himself as a Nixon-hater, the most ardent Nixon-hater of all, a man of painful insecurity, what radio/TV psychologists would call a victim of poor self image, verging on clinical paranoia. In fact, Stone's depiction of Nixon is remarkably sympathetic and multi-faceted. This fictionalized Nixon was, as the despicable fictionalized Henry Kissinger says, a man who had greatness in his grasp but who destroyed himself. The cast of accomplices and sycophants - all fictionalized of course - around Nixon during his presidency are uniformly lesser men, simpler in their evil, than he is: Haldeman is a cold-blooded apparatchik, the least troubled by ethics of the crew; Ehrlichman, Mitchell, Dean are uncomplicated placemen; Colson, Hunt, Hoover, Haig, and especially CIA Director Richard Helms are figures of Machiavellian evil. Surrounded by such a crew of villains, poor Richard Milhouse can honestly be perceived as 'a man more sinned against than sinning.'
Did you heed the word 'fictional' in that first paragraph? This film is a work of artistic interpretation, as much so as Shakespeare's Richard the Third or John Adams's opera Nixon in China. Most of the negative criticisms of the film have essentially denied the legitimacy of an artistic interpretation of 'current' events. The film was released in 1995, only twenty three years after the Watergate burglary-fiasco. Is that enough time to justify the use of Nixon as a 'dramatis persona' in what amounts to a modern Greek tragedy? All the themes of Aeschylus and Sophocles are here, fatal chance and hubris in abundance. Judged exclusively as a work of art, a theater piece intended to challenge the minds and emotions of an audience, Stone's "Nixon" seems to me to be a magnificent success. Anthony Hopkins is powerfully believable in the title role, just as he would be in the roe of Macbeth or Dumas's Richelieu. The collage cinematography - color mixed with black-and-white, flashbacks to Nixon's childhood, news photo realia blended with Stone's own footage - is superb. Joan Allen's portrayal of Pat Nixon was Oscar-worthy, and virtually any of the supporting cast of baddies might equally have been honored. In short, it's a potent piece of theatrical drama.
But there's still a nagging question of its 'historical' accuracy, much as we'd like to assert that history and art are different matters. Just how historically accurate is it? I'd suggest taking a look at other books, or merely at the Watergate article on wikipedia, if you're perturbed by that question. You'll find that Stone has hewn rather closely to the known facts of the events. What isn't known ... where the facts are vague... there Stone has freely asserted a controversial interpretation. The film implies that CIA attempts to 'eliminate' Fidel Castro were directly responsible for the assassination of JFK, or at least that Nixon labored under some fearful sense of guilt that such a responsibility was his. Stone does NOT explicitly endorse such a 'conspiracy' theory; he subtly shows Nixon agonizing over its consequences. Only the most fervent right-wing 'patriot' could deny that the CIA had gone 'rogue' in its several decades of covert operations. Stone's Nixon is helplessly aware of his inability to manage the "beast" of State; in full conscience, he both detests the CIA/FBI and depends on their complicity, in a "can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em" moral quandary.
Stone's ambiguous hero Nixon saw himself as a great president, an accomplisher, and he repeatedly lists his accomplishments: ending the draft; generously increasing Social security and SSI; diplomatic recognition of China and cautious arms reduction negotiations with the USSR; decreased military spending; some Keynesian measures of economic stabilization; effective support for desegregation, Civil Rights in general, and the ill-fated ERA; support for abortion rights, urged by his wife Pat; an impressive record of support for environmental protections; and above all, in his mind, "ending the war" in Vietnam with 'honor' by withdrawal under a guise of diplomacy. And Stone has his history right! In hindsight, Nixon was probably the best 'Democratic' president the Republicans ever elected. What his most fervent haters failed to realize was that "opportunism" is sometimes a synonym for "pragmatism." Nixon WAS a pragmatist for America, an opportunist for himself.
The dramatic climax of Nixon's career, and of this dramatization of it, was obviously Watergate, with the subsequent Constitutional turmoil and his eventual resignation. Again Oliver Stone got the basic known facts correct. His depictions of the unseen maneuvers of Nixon's staff, of his strife with Pat, and especially of Nixon's own agonistic psychological collapse are all 'artistic' liberties, speculative interpretations. Are Stone's insights legitimate? He has the art to make them seem plausible, and such artwork is/guesswork is intellectually legitimate as long as the viewer recognizes them as such. Once again in hindsight, Watergate was a paltry affair, a petty abuse of power that might have been applied to far more odious misdeeds. Stone's Nixon asserts that other presidents had pulled far sleazier stunts, used their power far more abusively, and in that he is surely accurate. Watergate was a molehill of a scandal compared to Ronald Reagan's outrageous Iran-Contra shenanigans, the most patently impeachment-worthy abuses of any president in history. But Nixon was 'hated' as vehemently as Reagan was loved. In that light, one might conclude that Nixon was fundamentally correct when he raged that 'it wasn't about the war or the nation, it was all about destroying him.' Oddly enough, Oliver Stone's Nixon isn't a cartoon monster after all; he's human enough not to be hated, although it would take an act of God to make me love him.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Stone's best effort,
Any effort to explore the complex psychology of our esteemed thirty-seventh president, Richard Milhous Nixon, in a single motion picture is sure to run into some difficulties. Scholars, commentators, and all around miscreants have spent years and used up entire forests of paper in an effort to understand Richard Nixon. Born into a poor family from California, Nixon possessed the sorts of gifts that virtually assured he would make a mark on the world, but he also had character traits that seemed to contradict his talents. A brilliant man with a gift for reinventing himself, but an awkward soul when it came to dealing with people, Nixon graduated from law school at the top of his class. By the time he went into politics in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the post-World War II Red Scare was well underway. Nixon took full advantage of McCarthyite tactics, first by smearing a political opponent with charges of pro-communist sympathies and later involving himself in the HUAC committee's work on the Alger Hiss/Whittaker Chambers case. Chosen to serve as Dwight Eisenhower's vice-president, he lost the 1960 presidential election to John F. Kennedy. After another defeat in a bid for the governorship of California, Nixon promised to drop out of politics forever. And he did, for a time, before coming back strong to win the presidency in 1968. Everyone with a pulse knows what happened next.
Oliver Stone, that joyful purveyor of offbeat cinematic adaptations of such touchy subjects as the Vietnam War (Platoon), the Kennedy assassination (JFK), and media violence (Natural Born Killers) constructs a lengthy treatise on a man who has become synonymous with political corruption. Here is "Nixon," a Stone production replete with all of his usual cinematographic stunts, a long list of well-known celebrities in roles both major and minor, and his now familiar breezy style of reworking historical fact to suit his personal vision. One suspects Ollie doesn't care much for Nixon based on themes found in his other films and the slurs heaped upon the subject of this one. As a former Vietnam veteran Stone certainly didn't appreciate Nixon's escalation of the war into Cambodian territory although he does give the man some credit for opening up China (I think). The film is difficult to discuss conventionally due to Stone's insistence on using the same convoluted, non-linear style found in "Natural Born Killers." There's Nixon arguing with his wife Pat about running for office. Here's Nixon convincing Pat to support him for one more go. Look, a sweaty Nixon debates Kennedy and complains about having the election stolen from him! Leave it to Stone to insert a significant thread about the Kennedy assassination, which, if not implicating Richard Nixon directly, opens the man up to charges that he knew who orchestrated the events in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
"Nixon" lurches on and on for over three hours. Most of the film deals with the scandals that ultimately brought him down in August 1974. As the nightmare of Watergate increasingly assumes corporeal form, a besieged Nixon hunkers down in the White House with his diminishing number of confidants railing about Jews, the press, the East Coast elites, and anyone else real or imagined who has it in for the president. The denouement takes place upstairs in the private quarters as the president slouches over a desk as Kissinger and Haig implore him to resign. When asked what options he has to fight with, one of the men replies, "The army." Yeah, right. Still, the movie does have its charms despite Stone's hallucinatory cinematography and editing. A great scene takes place right at the end, with Nixon musing aloud in front of a portrait of John F. Kennedy, "When they look at you, they see what they want to be. When they look at me, they see who they really are." A highly dramatic scene that works well in the context of the film's depiction of Richard Nixon as a deeply insecure man afraid of the American public.
Although I found the movie wishy-washy in its motivations and execution, I cannot cast aspersions on the cast performances. Top notch stuff all around, from Bob Hoskins as J. Edgar Hoover, James Woods as H.R. Haldeman, J.T. Walsh as John Erlichman, Powers Boothe as Alexander Haig, Mary Steenburgen as Nixon's Mom, Joan Allen as Pat Nixon, David Hyde Pierce as John Dean, E.G. Marshall as John Mitchell, and Sam Waterston as CIA director Richard Helms (and according to Stone, some sort of soulless demon with pitch black eyes and a weird fetish for plants). There are dozens of well known actors in this film. The two greatest performances come from Paul Sorvino as Henry Kissinger and Anthony Hopkins as Richard Nixon. Sorvino completely disappears into his role; he has the accent and mannerisms of the former Secretary of State down cold. Hopkins eerily recreates the late president, or at least the public persona of the man. There's a great scene where a young blonde woman hits on Nixon before he becomes president, and the reactions from Hopkins's Nixon are simply hilarious. Is it true? Who knows? Probably no truer than Stone's constant harping on some sort of shadow force running the government, first seen in "JFK" and tediously elaborated upon in "Nixon."
The DVD edition of Oliver Stone's "Nixon" abounds with extras. There's a commentary from Stone, a trailer, deleted scenes, an interview with the director conducted by Charlie Rose, and a widescreen picture transfer. Give "Nixon" a shot if you like Oliver Stone films, but don't expect to come away with an accurate picture of the late president. Those viewers looking for a fast paced film full of action should probably look elsewhere, perhaps Oliver Stone's "Platoon" if nothing else.
25 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Flawed, yes, but a great film nonetheless,
This review is from: Nixon (Bonus Edition) [VHS] (VHS Tape)
This may indeed be Oliver Stone's masterpiece, although as one would expect from Oliver Stone, it is a flawed and disjointed masterpiece, a monumental tragedy in the cathartic mode of the ancient Greeks. There is an Orson Welles/Citizen Kane quality about the film that is fascinating, including a journalistic/newsreel-ish feel that is unmistakably derivative. But it isn't really about Richard Nixon. Rather what Oliver Stone has constructed here is a mythology about a certain political persona that resembles Nixon in a milieu that resembles American politics and some things that happened once upon a time some thirty years ago.
Anthony Hopkins is brilliant and compelling in the title role, but in no way would I mistake him for Richard Milhous Nixon. He is both too depraved and all too human in his intense portrayal of the only president to resign under the pressure of impeachment. The Richard Nixon that I recall played his cards much closer to his vest (he was a terrific poker player, according to his naval buddies who lost a lot of their mustering out money to him aboard ship) and was not nearly as sympathetic as Hopkins and Stone make him. Nixon was cold and unfeeling except when it came to something that touched on his self-interest, and then he became pathological.
One sees in this film traces of Oliver Stone's JFK (1991) in that he hints of a Cuban plot to kill John F. Kennedy while imagining that Lee Harvey Oswald was Cuban-inspired. Indeed, Stone intimates that J. Edgar Hoover was somehow involved in the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968 partly because he wanted to insure Nixon's victory by eliminating the one person who could beat him, and partly because his experience with Robert Kennedy as Attorney General was not a pleasant one for Hoover.
Conspiracy was in the air in those days, and many Americans took it as gospel that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was a player in those assassinations. And of course it is always wise to ask who benefits from certain events, and there is no doubt that Nixon would have had a lot more trouble beating Robert Kennedy in 1968 than he had in beating George McGovern. And Bobby Kennedy as president would have been a nightmare for the corrupt J. Edgar Hoover and his fiefdom.
But Oliver Stone is not really interested in actual history as much as he is in his vision of the tortured Nixon himself and his fall from grace. It is strange but although Hopkins did not really look like Nixon or behave like Nixon (although he had some of the mannerisms down pat) it didn't matter because somehow he became a Nixon-like personage, a kind of ghost of Nixon, perhaps, a Nixon truer than true in some ways with his ever present worry about his image and his obsession with the Kennedy glamour that he could never have, his "Republican cloth-coat" middle-class heritage, and his gift for political infighting.
One of the best scenes occurs under the Lincoln memorial as Nixon is confronted by some Vietnam War protestors and especially one 19-year-old girl who challenges his view of his responsibility and ultimately of himself. What Stone is able to do through such scenes is to make Anthony Hopkins's Nixon more sympathetic than the real Nixon ever was. We see Hopkins as a tortured Shakespearean protagonist, King Lear or Othello or Hamlet, souls tormented with the contrast between the grandeur of their station, and the weakness of their flesh.
Another great scene is when the Texas power broker threatens Nixon by reminding him "who made him" and "who can destroy him." Nixon is unperturbed as he counter-threatens the power broker with the holy terror of the IRS, and then smiles as though it is just another day at the office.
A third great scene is late in the film as a drunken Pat Nixon confronts Nixon, who is falling apart under the pressure of the Watergate investigation, her eyes the eyes of woman looking at a worm, her manner accusatory and venomous.
In the end we come to identify with Nixon as we did with Lear and Hamlet, although of course Nixon properly seen is more like Claudius.
The cast is eclectic and you really need a program to keep track of them. Although I recall the players from the Nixon years, Haldeman, Erhlichman, Henry Kissinger, John Dean, Al Haig, Attorney General John Mitchell and his bimbo wife Martha (burlesqued in a fine cameo by Madeline Kahn), and the rest of them, I couldn't form distinct persons in my mind. The actors themselves are top notch for the most part, James Woods, J. T. Walsh, Paul Sorvino, Ed Harris, E.G. Marshall, etc., but the real world contrast between their countenances and those of the historical figures was so glaring as to be almost comical at times.
Of course there was no getting around this. Stone had to either hire unknown actors or to just live with the unreality of the actors not really resembling the people they were portraying. There were some striking exceptions, however. Joan Allen as Pat Nixon, the president's straight-laced and ever loyal (in public) wife was something close to a dead-ringer, and Allen did a brilliant job of bringing the historical first lady to life. Sorvino did not look all that much like Henry Kissinger, but his voice and manner were absolutely perfect. David Barry Gray who played Nixon as a young man did indeed look a lot like the young Nixon. Corey Carrier who played him as a boy was much like I would imagine Nixon as a boy.
Also worth noting are Mary Steenburgen who played Nixon's mother, and Bob Hoskins who played J. Edgar Hoover. Steenburgen seemed the very embodiment of the wise and hardtack Quaker mother while Hoskins's sleazy lampoon of Hoover was creepy enough to make your skin crawl.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mother Would Expect Nothing Less From Me,
Nixon is arguably the best of Oliver Stone's films, as far as historical accuracy goes. The movie still bears the hallmark of Stone's Kennedy assassination paranoia, but it does not negatively affect the movie as a whole. While JFK was about Jim Garrison, "Nixon" is about Nixon. This is a complex film, and it is not really made for an audience that does not have a good grasp of history. After viewing the movie a couple times, I would suggest the viewer read the annotated screenplay which goes a long way in establishing the veracity of some of the more dubious assertions in the film. Many have complained that this movie is just a mere compilation of Richard Nixon's greatest hits. Here, we have the "Checker's Speech", "You Won't Have Nixon to Kick Around Anymore", "The Smoking Gun", and "The Trip to China." The made for TV movie Truman however is more representative of this kind of `greatest hits' docudrama. In "Nixon", we see the psychological struggles behind the great events. Thus, right before the great "Silent Majority" speech we see a poignant flashback sequence going back to the young Nixon in California. For viewers that thought a Catholic guilt-trip was bad, imagine a Quaker guilt-trip. This intense feeling of guilt of letting his mother down was what may have driven Nixon. Therefore, on one level, the movie is about the events swirling around Nixon in the 50's, 60's and 70's, but on another level, it is really about what motivates a man, and how that motivation can lead to a downfall. Stephen Ambrose has quoted President Eisenhower as referring to Nixon as: "I don't know how a man can go through life with no friends." Stone's Nixon maintained an innocuous relationship with his wife Pat. In one of the key scenes early on in the movie after Nixon's defeat to Pat Brown in 1962, Nixon shows affection to Pat, but only after she talks about a divorce. One wonders if this is a true sign of affection towards Pat or if its just another cold calculated Nixonian movie. However, Stone's Nixon is NOT evil! He began his career in law and politics with the best of intentions and as he fights back the storm of Watergate, he remains steadfast in the belief that his mother would expect nothing less of him. Driven by his compelling need to please his mother, he begins mentally justifying his dirty tricks to achieve what he thinks is for the greater good. As Nixon walks to the helicopter on the final day, one wonders if the look in his eyes signals regret or just more insistence that what he did was right.
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Nixon - The Election Year Edition by Oliver Stone (DVD - 2008)