Sequestered in his home, a disgraced President Richard Millhouse Nixon arms himself with a bottle of Scotch and a gun to record memoirs that no one will hear. Surrounded by the silent portraits of Lincoln, Eisenhower, Kissinger, and his mother, Nixon resurrects his past in a passionate attempt to reconcile his failed political career. Based on the original play by Donald Freed and Arnold M. Stone, and starring Philip Baker Hall in a tour de force solo performance, Robert Altmans Secret Honor
is a searing interrogation of the Nixon mystique and an audacious depiction of unchecked paranoia.
A bravura performance by Philip Baker Hall and the probing eye of Robert Altman make Secret Honor
a provocative--even haunting--speculation on history. The project originated as a one-man play, a fictional look at Richard Nixon dictating a lengthy monologue to a tape machine. The script offers some wild possibilities for explaining Watergate, but more importantly it attempts to understand Nixon the man (and succeeds far better than Oliver Stone's factual Nixon
). Hall's flabbergasting performance, though it holds nothing back in its picture of a boozing, paranoid self-dramatist, manages to humanize Nixon. Altman's low-budget filming of the play tinkered little with the text or with Hall's performance, but the gliding camera, always picking out the telling angle or detail, is pure Altman. It received a tiny release in 1984, but Secret Honor
now looks like a key American political fantasia, like The Manchurian Candidate
wrought on a single set. --Robert Horton