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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 25.49%
Just Average: 3.92%
Pretty Crappy: 1.96%
Sucks: 5.88%

4 reviews, 27 user ratings

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by Marc Kandel

"“Why puny hippies always chasing Nixon? Nixon Smash!”"
4 stars

More proof positive that nobody films sweaty, corpulent, pock-marked white men furtively scheming the ruination of others amid curling cigarette smoke in sepia tones like Oliver Stone.

Seriously. You can practically smell the pit stained polyester and sickly, baked-in smell of 55-year-old crotch and 85 year old ashtrays. It’s like somebody piped in the smell of a NYC Port Authority plaid-upholstered bus seat from 1999, right before they phased out the old 70’s buses, right into your theater, living room, wherever you pop this in and give a watch. mmmmm... Still interested?

So do I get what makes Richard M. Nixon tick now? Well, I think so… I think so. Do I fully understand what went on during his administration? Did he end Vietnam or exacerbate it? Did he really make peace with China and Russia for the length of one or two administrations, or simply agree to empty, meaningless status quo terms that had been out there for anyone to grab for at least a decade, only deciding to publicly hoist those terms up once America showed the Commies that we were just fucking nuts enough to stay in a hostile foreign country taking and dishing out enormous casualties until the enemy got the point that we would be just as batshit crazy as they were? Well, I think I just summed it up right there. Did I learn what the whole point of Watergate was about? Nah. Not really. I got a vague idea, but again, rather than the mechanics and goals of this scandal, I only got lots of moist white guys in rumpled suits, nervously puffing on cancer sticks and playing the blame game whilst America stews in confusion; perhaps I did get it after all.

The movie is incredibly successful in allowing the audience to connect with Nixon- sympathetic, accessible, by no means faultless or absolved of his misdeeds. We see how his life has shaped him. We see him as a deeply religious, incredibly intelligent (far more than I would have ever suspected), shrewd pundit and politician with a palpable streak of self-loathing to the point of not only orchestrating his own destruction, but committing it to record as a running, first person account of his fall from grace and crucifixion by the nation- something he both detests happening and wants to happen, desperately needs to happen.

Hopkins is fascination itself, bringing stinging depth and palpable reality to a character most of us would easily turn a blind eye to; Richard Nixon? Who cares? You’d think a film about this man would be death on celluloid- instead it’s a hypnotizing portrait of a man trying so hard to live up to truly positive ideals, ambitious, world-changing ideas, and the unreachable image of a man he can never really be, that his failures destroy not only himself, but bring suffering and dissention to multiple nations, not the least of which, his own country, drawn and quartered by the onrush of domestic and foreign strife in an avalanche of history.

Nixon has always been a caricature to me, a Halloween mask, a cliché frozen in time in his one most memorable moment of shame. Hopkins brings the flesh and blood, the history and soul. Always there is the brimming resentment, the sweaty insecurity, the mania of holding everything together and being reviled for it by those dependent on your actions, and the terrible retribution on those haters. Much of the loathing is deserved, certainly, and the man, whatever his noble intentions, is still bigoted, racist, and corrupt. But there is never any doubt of the struggle within and without to bring America back to greatness- but the methods won’t work.

Stone deals a more than even hand portraying the methodology behind his actions, while still allowing for judgement and criticism of the protagonist, given the enormous world stage where each action is taken not just to affect the direct consequence but the chain reaction of consequences and reactions set in motion- the centerpiece of course, being Vietnam and its effect not only on the soldiers of both the US and the Vietnamese, but the ripple effect these actions have on the true adversaries of the age- China and the Soviet Union. The question is always present: Could you do any better? There is a compelling scene at the Lincoln Memorial that gives this unspoken question lots of room to breathe and is a great moment in the film.

The horror of Nixon is how his personal demons spur him to polarize the nation and commit thousands upon thousands to death and destruction. Nixon wants to make history, wants peace, wants acceptance. His history is repetitious and holed with scandal, his peace empty, his acceptance impossible given his capacity for destruction and willingness to betray fundamental American values, and the American people themselves.

The imagery and accompanying subtext of the film as a whole is shaky. Some works, some is heavy handed and obvious. Air Force One hits an air pocket at the moment congratulations are being proferred for brokering peace with China, as the press secretary hovers nervously, anxious to move on from the foreign policy and tackle Watergate- it’s the proverbial bump in what was thought to be a smooth road- that’s imagery and foreshadowing technique I can get behind- its there, but not obvious or overwhelming. A bellowed complaint by Nixon about his dinner at what amounts to a war council is much less successful and blatant, when the mere image of bloated white men enjoying an opulent meal whilst deciding the fate of millions amid chuckles and mouthfuls of food and wine serves the scene simply and eloquently minus the shovel to the head of Nixon complaining about “all the blood on my plate.” And J. Edgar Hoover... Well, you just take a look at those scenes for yourself. Whuf.

This is not an easy review to do. There’s so much I feel should be mentioned, and at a ponderous 192 minute running time, so much ground to cover; some truly great lines, Joan Allen’s long suffering Pat Nixon loving the man with the drive, yet disgusted by what drives him, Paul Sorvino as the oily, passionate, formidable Henry Kissinger, whose role in these affairs becomes as foggy as the air in the offices polluted by Nixon’s smoking brain trust, James Woods, always a pleasure, as HR Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of Staff and the Duke of Buckingham to Nixon’s Richard III, Nixon's worship of Abraham Lincoln as the President he so wants to be juxtaposed with his working class loathing of the privileged JFK as the President people would rather have, so much story, so many great actors you can see really relishing some decent material and ideas to be reflected upon.

But I’ll leave things here, and just say its worth clearing out some time for, but be warned- Stone can be rambling and uneven in his narrative elements and you will feel the minutes ticking by on this one at points. Jotting down some notes as the info comes fast and furious might not be a bad idea either as folks may find themselves completely flummoxed as to who is who and what exactly is going on (I certainly found myself in this state), but it’s a fascinating, if somewhat incomplete portrait; I found myself feeling a bit skimped on the family flashbacks despite the length of the film and feel that the audience is left to coast on subtext and nuance at a certain point regarding Nixon’s relationship with his mother- its clear enough I suppose, but there are moments when I felt running time necessitated this relationship getting put by the wayside. That we get such a chunk of history covered with some phenomenal performances and some skilled filmcraft, well, that’s an achievement by any standard, and I can forgive what must have been some tough love editing.

One thing’s for sure: It ain’t the West Wing folks. Take it in for a resoundingly different look at the White House of another era. Then ask yourself if we are better or worse off these days. Then throw up some more.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=2353&reviewer=358
originally posted: 02/23/06 15:10:55
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell amazing makes a republican sympathetic LOL 4 stars
2/25/10 Jeff Wilder Surprisingly even-handed portrait of Nixon. Hopkins is superb. 4 stars
11/27/08 Shaun Wallner Awesome Story! 5 stars
8/19/08 JM Synth Not flawless but extremely powerful 5 stars
2/12/07 johnnyfog Stone always goes one step too far, though 4 stars
12/20/06 David Pollastrini Like most Stone films it's too long 3 stars
9/10/06 Sepi53 One of the best films ever made!! 5 stars
6/26/06 Criddic2 Oliver Stone's best film and one of Hopkins' finest portrayals; Fascinating film 5 stars
6/21/06 TB The most boring biography movie I ever seen 2 stars
4/06/06 Troy M. Grzych One of Anthony Hopkins best performances! 4 stars
2/27/06 Perry Mason Stone's best movie. 5 stars
2/25/05 goatfarmer grand 5 stars
8/20/04 Sam this movie absolutely blows 1 stars
7/04/04 JimmyC Hopkins was perfection 5 stars
12/08/03 john compelling look at Nixon the man - Hopkins not 100% convincing though 4 stars
4/15/03 Jack Bourbon Hey, Stone CAN direct!!! Or maybe it's that Hopkins can act. Hannibal's best performance. 5 stars
9/27/02 Charles Tatum As interesting as Bill Clinton's cigar smoking 1 stars
5/26/02 Valerie Cameron Decent try, but (sometimes great actor) Anthony Hopkins just ain't believable as Nixon 3 stars
12/08/01 Andrew Carden Excellent Hopkins Fare and More. 5 stars
11/14/01 phil m. afficiando An acting tour de force, with several trips "over the top" (ala, O. Stone). Excellent film 5 stars
9/23/01 Larry Smith Anthony Hopkins! Great Actor! Always........ 5 stars
9/03/01 spaceworm Where to begin? The score, Hopkins, structure, Allen, even-handed point of view... 5 stars
8/25/01 Guy Movieson Only hardcore poly-sci freaks & pretentious indie lovers would hate this fascinating epic 5 stars
4/01/01 Jesse L For hard core Nixon haters only - 1 stars
11/27/00 Cristopher Revilla a good companion to "All the presidents men" 5 stars
11/27/00 Bruce Suffers from Stone's hyperactive editing and overlength but still good 4 stars
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  20-Dec-1995 (R)



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