12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Not Stone's best effort
, February 18, 2004
This review is from: Nixon - Collector's Edition (DVD)
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.
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