Richard Nixon does not die in The Assassination of Richard Nixon, but the film's protagonist - a depressed, angry, middle-aged man named Samuel Bicke (Sean Penn) - eventually comes to believe that, for the good of himself and his country, the commander-in-chief deserves death. Estranged from his wife, unable to hold down employment, and disgusted by the lies and hypocrisies of a 1974 American society that favors the deceitful rich and powerful over the little man, Bicke is a powder keg waiting for his fuse to be lit. And in Niels Mueller's unsettling debut, that igniting spark comes from a series of final disappointments that Bicke - the type of man who blames his woes on a general, conspiratorial "they" - conveniently pins on the corrupting influence of the tricky U.S. president seen talking about hope and prosperity on his living room TV.
A kindred spirit of Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle ("God's lonely man") with politics, instead of prostitution, on his mind, Bicke fervently believes in honesty, upright morals, and a sense of decency and fairness. Unfortunately, his uncompromising idealism functions as a straightjacket, preventing him from performing the casual deceptions necessitated by his job as a furniture salesman or accepting the fact that his estranged wife Marie (Naomi Watts) must don a short miniskirt and tolerate customers' gropes to earn a living as a waitress. He resents the success of his tire salesman brother Julius, longs for the happy stability of living with his wife and three kids (who seem to fear him), sports fanciful dreams of starting his own tire business with an African-American friend (Don Cheadle's Bonny) and longs to join the Black Panthers (who he believes can relate to his supposed persecution). To Bicke, the world has been corrupted, and the only effective response - after sending Leonard Bernstein (a "pure and honest" man) his tape-recorded memoirs - is to orchestrate an attack on the White House via hijacked airplane that will, he imagines, awaken the world to American injustice.
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