Director Oliver Stone's (JFK, Platoon, and other greats) hard-hitting character study of President Richard M. Nixon, is a return to familiar ground for him, and it's also a very convincing and almost perfectly well made political drama, that can give out basically same effect like when you saw JFK. But not only that, it's an examination of a man who's hatred for the world ended in the world hating him, and then being surrounded by his demons that ultimately drove him beyond madness. I was blown away by this film, especially Anthony Hopkins' believable performance as the troubled Nixon. Sure, the usual inaccuracies of history may appear, but clearly, as you watch it, it's another outcry from Stone towards the corruption of the system, which in this case is the US Government.The film basically shows the highlights of Nixon’s life, all scattered throughout the film, since it starts with the break in of Watergate, then it goes into the last night for Nixon in the White House, where we are introduced to Nixon (Hopkins), and his few remaining aides, Gen. Alexander Haig (Powers Boothe), who brings him the infamous tapes that Nixon had that recorded every conversation and every event in the White House since 1968, Nixon's first year in power. Then we see flashbacks of the aftermath of the break-in, and were introduced to more characters, H.R. "Bob" Haldeman (James Woods), John Ehrlichman (J.T. Walsh), who are Nixon’s top aides, and John Dean (David Hyde Pierce), Nixon's counselor. And then throughout the film we just go through Nixon’s early years, the experiences in his youth, his run for the Presidency vs. Kennedy, his other run for Governor of California vs. Edmund "Pat" Brown, his early years in politics, his sabbatical until 1968, when he ran again for president and won, and from then we go straightforward through everything that happen in his years, up to the Watergate break-in and his resignation. Also we get to meet many key characters in Nixon’s life: His wife Pat (Joan Allen), friend and top aide John Mitchell (E.G. Marshall), Secretary of State and Nixon's right hand man in foreign policies Henry Kissinger (Paul Sorvino), FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Bob Hoskins), and E. Howard Hunt (Ed Harris), the key burglar in Watergate, among others.
"Portrait of an American President (Despite Inaccuracies)"
For those who crave historical accuracy, the film is unforgiving in blasting Nixon for the several flaws that he committed during his years at the White House. It shows us a man who has had several setbacks during his life that reaches the point of taking everything personal, including politics, or should I say, politics the most. For him, politics has always been his life, and has always pursued the political race up to the point of insanity. Just like the movie says: “He didn’t have friends, he had enemies,” and almost made an enemy of his own family. The film points out not only the good things in his career, but also the bad things, and we see how he’s seduced by power that it forces him to do things that a normal person wouldn’t do. He always fought to go to the top, and he was determined to stay at the top, even if it meant destroying his adversaries, his credibility and even his sanity. Of course, as always, there’s a historical flaw or two, but that doesn’t hamper the film in any minute, since the film’s effect draws us deep into the suspense and the drama that was the life of Nixon. Oliver Stone sets again his successful formula for filmmaking that he developed after the years of JFK, and although it’s kind of outdated, it’s still effective in most of the film.
I was referring to outdated, since one of Stone’s trademarks is the use of camera shot close-ups from different angles, the point being, to display certain types of moods. This worked brilliantly in JFK, and here it MOSTLY works out. Stone here unfortunately, exaggerates the effect a lot in some scenes that it becomes confusing. The many shots on a single scene, sure, it gives its effect in most scenes, but overdoes it a lot in the others. The editing was important here, but it unfortunately misses the mark in the need to cut a few unnecessary shots. The other problem, though it was lesser, is that due to this, and since there was a lot of dialogue, the film speaks more like a documentary than a feature, since it covers a lot of range here in Nixon’s life, it MAY bore a few viewers, but it keeps itself viewable thanks to the great acting by the cast. Another problem is the wide range of material itself. Most of the film’s time centers on his two runs for the presidency all the way to his resignation, but the film covers little ground on his roots and childhood, and its patchy all along from his childhood years to his teens and early adult years. But from early adult to his runs for the presidency, we don’t get basically anything, though of course, the film does an outline of all that time. That may disappoint a little, but nonetheless, the film charges on strong through Nixon’s remaining years and never looks back, and that pretty much made up the ground for the rest.
The films real heart is in the actors, and the performances were superb all along. Anthony Hopkins has never been better as the demanding role of President Richard Nixon, it’s impressive that his most successful days have come in his later years, but hey, who said that old people don’t rock? Joan Allen was also superb as Nixon’s beloved wife Pat, and the rest of the all-star supporting cast (like Stone is now used to) was also great, every character is there for a reason and no character gets wasted, not for a single moment. This is probably Oliver Stones last best film to date, until he makes up another winner, since he’s done some shitfests like U-Turn and Any Given Sunday, but we know Stone, he’ll come up with a good one sometime.In the end, I recommend this film to anyone who loves dramas and great acting. Sure it had a few flaws and we know Stone looks more for effect than a few historical accuracies, but his main idea still goes straight, and that’s always a good sign. This film is a must, for everyone. See it.
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originally posted: 08/25/01 00:27:43