Screenplay : Stephen J. Rivele, Oliver Stone and Christopher Wilkinson
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1995
Stars : Anthony Hopkins (Richard Nixon), Joan Allen (Pat Nixon), Powers Boothe (Alexander Haig), Ed Harris (E. Howard Hunt), Bob Hoskins (J. Edgar Hoover), J.T. Walsh (Erlichman)
The mammoth bio-pic "Nixon" marks Oliver Stone's return to controversial political filmmaking. Anthony Hopkins heads the cast of thousands that reads like a "Who's Who of Supporting Actors": Powers Boothe, James Woods, Ed Harris, Bob Hoskins, and J.T. Walsh, just to name a few. Too many big names in one film can weigh it down, the best example being George Stevens' overblown Christ epic "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (John Wayne as a Roman solider?) However, Stone keeps tight reign on his actors and they never distract the focus of the film.
Hopkins finds just the right balance that shows the bitterness and the paranoia of Nixon's character without making him unapproachable to the audience and wholly unsympathetic. If this were not the case, the movie would be impossible to sit through because it would have no impact.
Stone films "Nixon" like a Shakespearean tragedy, implicating that the President's downfall was not his fault, but rather due to his being a helpless pawn of "The System," a "wild animal" as it's referred to by a youthful idealist who Nixon encounters during a demonstration at the Lincoln Memorial.
The film constantly compares Nixon to other Presidents, especially Lincoln. There are countless shots of Hopkins standing with Lincoln's painting looming in the background. Nixon and Lincoln are seen as similar in that they were both hated by their contemporary publics, and they both held the Presidency at critical and confusing times during America's history (the Civil War and Vietnam, respectively).
Stone employs many of the same editing and camera techniques he used in "JFK" which he later exploited to their zenith in "Natural Born Killers." These techniques looked much more at home in the earlier films. In "JFK" they work to tell the same story from different points of view, and in "NBK" they elaborate the film's satirical approach to the media. But in "Nixon" they often distract. The montage sequences are impressive from an editing point of view, but most of the time they don't sit well within the film and draw attention to unimportant things.
"Nixon" is at its strongest when it uses simple, straightforward storytelling. The most moving scene in the film is a quiet moment by a fireplace when Nixon gets down on his knees in prayer after signing his resignation and weeps bitterly, wondering why everyone hates him so much. That Stone could evoke so much sympathy for such a flawed man is testament to his skills as a filmmaker.
Reprinted with permission The Baylor Lariat