Oliver Stone's "Nixon" is quite simply a great American film, one that has been shamefully overlooked in comparison with the seriously flawed "JFK." Stone obviously took notice of the criticisms of that earlier film, and while some of his conspiracy-mania appears in "Nixon", overall the later film is a much more balanced and human effort. Stone can direct like a lunatic (has anybody but the seriously disturbed sat through "Natural Born Killers" more than once?) but he is an undeniably intelligent and talented filmmaker who can rise to the occasion when challenged. And he was obviously challenged by the task of coming to terms with Richard Nixon, the dominant political figure of his youth. Stone dedicated the movie to his late father, and it is obviously an attempt by a son to understand patriarchal authority--and its abuses.
Stone's aggressive style is much on display here, but it helps draw you into the drama, rather than distracting as it has in other films. Ther's some truly inspired casting, from David Hyde Pierce as John Dean to James Woods and J.T. Walsh as Haldeman and Ehrlichman, to the splendid Joan Allen as Pat Nixon. But the centerpiece is Anthony Hopkins as Nixon who gives another remarkable performance in his patented manner of "clenched flamboyance" (as one critic described his acting.) He makes you feel every hurt, every slight that the man ever felt, as well as letting us see the undeniable brilliance as well as the pathetic flaws. By the time the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings "Shanendoah" over footage of Nixon's funeral and the closing credits (a masterful, unironic touch) you may find yourself genuinely grieving over the wasted genius. One of the best political films ever made, one whose reputation should grow over the coming years.