Nixon Movie Review

History has not been much kinder to Nixon the movie than it was to Nixon the man. Grossing under $14 million domestically, the $50 million movie was an enormous box office flop (what 1995-era family wouldn't want to go catch Nixon on Christmas Day?), though four Oscar nominations (it won none) must have softened the blow somewhat for auteur director Oliver Stone.

With Nixon, Stone struggles to present a thoughtful biography of one of history's most reviled leaders and the only President in modern times to voluntarily leave office before the end of his term. Richard Nixon of course needs no introduction, and Stone takes a much different approach to the material here than he did with JFK, which remains one of my favorite films ever. Rather than focus on a single incident -- Watergate -- Stone endeavors to encompass Nixon's entire life and career, from his days as a young Quaker (complete with dying brothers) to two big failed runs at political office to the entirety of his troubled political career. All the highlights are here, at least in part: Kent State, China, Vietnam and Cambodia, and of course the tragic events of Watergate.

Nixon boasts a mega-star cast of so many big name actors that one ultimately wishes they were wearing name tags. Unless you're a huge history buff, you may have trouble keeping John Dean and John Mitchell straight, or telling the difference between, say, an Ehrlichman and a Haldeman. How much does it matter? This is the Anthony Hopkins show, through and through. It was controversial casting to put the British Hopkins in the proto-American role of Richard M. Nixon, and reviews at the time were mixed. He pulls it off, but it stands as one of Hopkins' most difficult performances. Part doppelganger, part caricature, he's at once Nixon and some kind of freaky space alien. Whatever it is, watching him is a real treat. His supporting cast is universally outstanding (Paul Sorvino's Kissinger is unforgettable), even if you can't always remember who's who.

Structurally, though Nixon is a mixed bag. Stone gleefully -- almost recklessly -- jumps back and forth in time, from Watergate to Nixon's youth in Whittier, California, intercutting with oddly-tinted hallucinations, dreams, and non-sequiturs. This technique got its start in Natural Born Killers and hit its dreadful terminus in Alexander. Here it's little more than a distraction from a story that needs little embellishment.

For his "Election Year Edition," Stone has extended Nixon from its exhaustive 3 hours and 10 minutes to over 3 1/2 hours in length, restoring tons of deleted footage to the movie. Few of the additions are necessary: As much as I like Sam Waterston, I don't need to spend several minutes watching him (as CIA Director Richard Helms) reciting poetry to Nixon in his office in a completely superfluous scene that adds nothing to the story.

Despite its flaws, Nixon is an informative and entertaining film that sometimes approaches greatness, though (just as with JFK) some of its insinuations are a real stretch and it frequently wanders into irrelevance. Some of Nixon's scenes -- an impromptu meeting with college kids at the Lincoln Memorial, the re-enactments of some of Nixon's most famous speeches -- are standouts, but it's Hopkins' crazy rants that you won't soon forget.

The DVD also includes about an hour of additional (or different versions of) deleted scenes, each with an introduction from Stone. He also provides two commentary tracks, which means you can get over 10 hours of Nixon, if you really want it. A documentary about the film, courtesy of Stone's son, is also on tap.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer : , , Andrew G. Vajna


Comments

Nixon Rating

" Good "

Rating: R, 1995

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