on April 9, 2001
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.
on June 6, 2004
He infers that the beast is embodied in the Central Intelligence Agency, which in turn controls the U.S. A sequence showing Nixon visiting CIA Director Richard Helms (Sam Waterston) was mostly cut out of the original film, but the video shows it in its entirety at the end of the movie. Helms and his agency are virtually said to be the devil. Flowers in Helms' office are shown to bloom and wilt in supernatural ways, presumably depending on Helms' evil whim. Waterston's eyes are shown to be coal black. He is Satan!
Nixon asks himself the rhetorical question, "Whose helping us?" while staring into a fireplace flame under a portrait of Kennedy. The theme is first brought forth in Nixon's college years, when his older brother dies, and apparently this frees up money through an unexplained source (an insurance policy?) that allows Nixon to go to law school. In light of two Kennedy assassinations, the answer to Nixon's question seems to be the same one that Mick Jagger gives in "Sympathy for the Devil".
"After all, it was you and me," Jagger sings, and Stone would have you believe it was the devil in silent concert with Nixon and his brand of...something. Jingoism, patriotism, xenophobia, bloodthirstiness? Nixon is seen on a couple of occasions shadowed by a devil-like winged creature (the beast), and his conversation with a female college student at the Lincoln Memorial ends with her identification of the beast as the controlling force in American politics. Presumably the girl is able to see this clearly because her heart is pure.
Stone invents secret cabals that never happened between Nixon and John Birch Texas businessmen, racist to the core, who along with a smirking Cuban are there to tell us that because Nixon was in Texas on November 22, 1963 he was somehow plotting JFK's murder.
The conspiracy link between "JFK" and "Nixon" exists in this reference, and the CIA "tracks" like the one Agent X talks about in "JFK", apparently tie Guatemala, Iran and the Bay of Pigs to subsequent events. The Bay of Pigs tie-in, led by E. Howard Hunt and his Cubans, Bernard Barker, Eugenio Martinez, et al, is real enough, but the assassination is one Stone insists is part of the same "track." Something on the list of "horribles," which Nixon discusses with H.R. Haldeman (James Woods), who then talks about "bodies," references to something I still have never figured out after watching the film 15 times. The Kennedy's bodies? Vietnam dead bodies?
Stone gives Watergate its due, but lets the actual events speak for themselves without embellishing it with more hate towards Nixon than that era produced of its own accord. He actually does a solid job of demonstrating the semi-legitimate reasons for creating the Plumbers in the first place, which was to plug leaks in light of Daniel Ellsberg's treacherous "Pentagon Papers" revelation, in concert with the bunker mentality caused by anti-war protesters threatening, in their mind at the time, a civil war like the one that forced Lincoln to declare martial law.
Stone also makes it clear that Nixon and his people were convinced that Kennedy stole the 1960 election, and he does not try to deny it (without advocating it, either). Murray Chotiner represents the realpolitik Republicans who, Stone wants us to know, pulled the same fraudulent tricks, when he says, "They stole it fair and square."
Nixon is depicted as foul-mouthed and quite the drinker. His salty language apparently was learned well into adulthood, and he did occasionally imbibe after years as a teetotaler, but his associates insist it was by no means a regular thing. Woods' Haldeman is no friend of the Hebrews, and Paul Sorvino, doing a big league Henry Kissinger, finds himself constantly at war with the inside Nixon team, put down for his Jewishness. Powers Boothe is a cold-blooded Alexander Haig, representing the reality of Watergate's final conclusion.
It never would have happened under J. Edgar Hoover, Nixon says, and Haig agrees that Hoover, who died just before Watergate, was a "realist" who would have kept it locked up. Nixon discusses suicide with Haig, who eases him out of that but never really tells him not to. When Nixon asks for any final suggestion, Haig says something the real man probably never said:
"You have the Army. Lincoln used it."
Nixon breaks down, incredulous that for all his accomplishments, he can be brought down by such a nothing event. Stone allows Hopkins to infuse this scene with Shakespearean irony. Stone gives Nixon his due in many ways. He demonstrates that he was utterly faithful to his wife, Pat, turning down a right wing lovely served up by the Birchers, while telling the girl that he entered politics to help people. His hardscrabble youth is nicely portrayed, with Mary Steenburgen playing his long-suffering Quaker mother. Young Nixon is utterly faithful to her and the honest, religious ethic of the family. But in a later scene, Steenburgen looks questioningly at his Presidential aspirations, saying he is destined to lead, but only if God is on his side. It is a telling statement playing to his theme that dark forces are the wind at Nixon's sails. He enters politics as an idealist, and becomes something else because he discovers he has the talent for it. He is industrious, in contrast to the Kennedys, and will earn everything he has simply by out-working everybody.
An entirely loving portrait of Dick Nixon would have no credibility. Stone does a great job with the movie, which is as balanced as it could be with a side of liberal righteousness.(...)
on May 16, 2004
This review refers to the DVD edition of "Nixon"
This film opens with a notation, that it is a dramtic interpertation of the events based on public records, that some scenes may be condensed or hypothesized. With that said, you will find this film to be an enlighting, educational and entertaining look at this turbulent time in American History. Whatever you thought or think about Nixon, whether you admired him or hated him, you'll get a good look at the man who had such a great impact on the country and the world.
Oliver Stone keeps us fascinated with the story from start to finish. It includes Nixon's life as a young boy growing up in a Quaker family and the tragic loss of two brothers, that seems to have quite an influence on his life, his football years at Whittier College,trying to rise out from under the shadow of the beloved John Kennedy, his role in the Viet Nam War, the Presidency and of course the infamous Watergate break-in scandel, leading to his resignation from the Whitehouse. It's not just the events that keep us captivated in this well made film, but Stone delves into the depths of Nixon's soul and the people around him. His relationship with his mother, his wife, and the figures that he worked most closely with, are all very much part of this enthralling story.
The cast is simply amazing as they key players in the events. They all seem to become the very characters they are portraying. Joan Allen, Powers Boothe, Ed Harris, Bob Hoskins(who does a fabulous job as J. Edgar Hoover), E.G. Marshall, J.T. Walsh and James Woods are a few of the very talented actors involved. I want to make special mention of Paul Sorvino who took on the look and persona of Henry Kissinger so well, that it took me several minutes to realize it was Sorvino!
This is a film that may well be appreciated by the History buff and the Film buff alike. It's a great way to learn about or relive this eventful era in American History.
The DVD I have is not the special edition.There is closed captioning in English for those needing it but there are no other special features. It is a good way to go for those just looking for a quality film with a quality transfer.The DVD presents a beautiful widescreen picture with excellent surround sound in DD5.1. And although Amazon is out of stock on this edition, there are some really good deals from the outside sellers. If you don't mind spending a little more and would like to hear the commentary and interviews,you may want to consider the "Special Edition"
Whichever edition you decide on, this is one film that is well worth having in your collection.
on May 12, 2004
Nixon was initially available only in a DVD with minimal extras. In recent years, Oliver Stone has revisited his entire canon with special edition treatments. Nixon was the last hold-out and has finally received a proper two-disc Collector's Edition complete with audio commentaries and other excellent supplemental material.
On the first disc are two audio commentaries by Oliver Stone. The menu simply calls them Commentary A and B with no other distinction than that. The commentaries have their share of dead air but considering that this is a three and half hour film, I'm willing to forgive Stone for the occasional lull.
Commentary A covers the performances, style and script of the movie, while Commentary B delves into the politics and history of the period. Commentary A is the more entertaining of the two as Stone offers his personal observations on the film. Commentary B is good in its own right as Stone discusses a lot of information that the film assumes the audience already knows and identifies who is who and their function in the narrative.
The second disc features ten deleted or extended scenes, some of which, like the meeting between Nixon and Helms, have also been edited back into the movie. Stone provides an introduction for each scene that puts the footage into the proper context within the film.
From the original DVD is also included the five-minute electronic press kit fluff piece that feels more like an extended movie trailer and the theatrical trailer.
To balance out the superficial EPK is an excellent 55-minute interview Stone did with Charlie Rose.
Nixon is a powerful historical biopic - arguably the last great one to come out of Hollywood. This two-disc set is a fantastic improvement over the original DVD. Perhaps the inclusion of a documentary on the real-life Nixon would've been nice for a different perspective on the man but this is a minor quibble. Nixon is well worth picking up for fans of Stone's films and students of United States history.
on March 10, 2004
The film was a good portrait of Richard M Nixon. Nixon was paranoid and portrayed as a MacBeth like-figure, minus a prodding wife. Joan Allen does well as the reluctant, then content, then exhausted Pat Nixon. The supporting cast was good. Nixon does not villify the man, like some thought or feared. The film was made about the time Nixon died. There are political implications, and what-ifs, and the usual Oliver Stone conspiracy theories. Nixon dodging the JFK Assassination by minutes, along with CIA Director Richard Helms reminding Nixon on the numerous coups and intelligence operations that he signed off on. Did Richard Nixon really know what he signed onto? Maybe. Maybe not. Let's not forget Bob Hoskins' portrayal of FBI Founder and Director J Edgar Hoover. Conspiracy theories on how MLK and Bobby Kennedy could be drawn from Hoover and Clyde Tolson venting rage at a horse track. The film's start was OK, and obviously showed Watergate as a part in a series of dirty tricks and internal spying. The film was good. I wonder what a movie on George W Bush would be like? I doubt they'd get Michael Moore to direct it. Oliver Stone would be good, despite recent clunkers like U-Turn and Any Given Sunday. Stone did a decent follow-up to JFK, which I liked better.
on February 18, 2004
Any effort to explore the complex psychology of our esteemed thirty-seventh president, Richard Milhous Nixon, in a single motion picture is sure to run into some difficulties. Scholars, commentators, and all around miscreants have spent years and used up entire forests of paper in an effort to understand Richard Nixon. Born into a poor family from California, Nixon possessed the sorts of gifts that virtually assured he would make a mark on the world, but he also had character traits that seemed to contradict his talents. A brilliant man with a gift for reinventing himself, but an awkward soul when it came to dealing with people, Nixon graduated from law school at the top of his class. By the time he went into politics in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the post-World War II Red Scare was well underway. Nixon took full advantage of McCarthyite tactics, first by smearing a political opponent with charges of pro-communist sympathies and later involving himself in the HUAC committee's work on the Alger Hiss/Whittaker Chambers case. Chosen to serve as Dwight Eisenhower's vice-president, he lost the 1960 presidential election to John F. Kennedy. After another defeat in a bid for the governorship of California, Nixon promised to drop out of politics forever. And he did, for a time, before coming back strong to win the presidency in 1968. Everyone with a pulse knows what happened next.
Oliver Stone, that joyful purveyor of offbeat cinematic adaptations of such touchy subjects as the Vietnam War (Platoon), the Kennedy assassination (JFK), and media violence (Natural Born Killers) constructs a lengthy treatise on a man who has become synonymous with political corruption. Here is "Nixon," a Stone production replete with all of his usual cinematographic stunts, a long list of well-known celebrities in roles both major and minor, and his now familiar breezy style of reworking historical fact to suit his personal vision. One suspects Ollie doesn't care much for Nixon based on themes found in his other films and the slurs heaped upon the subject of this one. As a former Vietnam veteran Stone certainly didn't appreciate Nixon's escalation of the war into Cambodian territory although he does give the man some credit for opening up China (I think). The film is difficult to discuss conventionally due to Stone's insistence on using the same convoluted, non-linear style found in "Natural Born Killers." There's Nixon arguing with his wife Pat about running for office. Here's Nixon convincing Pat to support him for one more go. Look, a sweaty Nixon debates Kennedy and complains about having the election stolen from him! Leave it to Stone to insert a significant thread about the Kennedy assassination, which, if not implicating Richard Nixon directly, opens the man up to charges that he knew who orchestrated the events in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
"Nixon" lurches on and on for over three hours. Most of the film deals with the scandals that ultimately brought him down in August 1974. As the nightmare of Watergate increasingly assumes corporeal form, a besieged Nixon hunkers down in the White House with his diminishing number of confidants railing about Jews, the press, the East Coast elites, and anyone else real or imagined who has it in for the president. The denouement takes place upstairs in the private quarters as the president slouches over a desk as Kissinger and Haig implore him to resign. When asked what options he has to fight with, one of the men replies, "The army." Yeah, right. Still, the movie does have its charms despite Stone's hallucinatory cinematography and editing. A great scene takes place right at the end, with Nixon musing aloud in front of a portrait of John F. Kennedy, "When they look at you, they see what they want to be. When they look at me, they see who they really are." A highly dramatic scene that works well in the context of the film's depiction of Richard Nixon as a deeply insecure man afraid of the American public.
Although I found the movie wishy-washy in its motivations and execution, I cannot cast aspersions on the cast performances. Top notch stuff all around, from Bob Hoskins as J. Edgar Hoover, James Woods as H.R. Haldeman, J.T. Walsh as John Erlichman, Powers Boothe as Alexander Haig, Mary Steenburgen as Nixon's Mom, Joan Allen as Pat Nixon, David Hyde Pierce as John Dean, E.G. Marshall as John Mitchell, and Sam Waterston as CIA director Richard Helms (and according to Stone, some sort of soulless demon with pitch black eyes and a weird fetish for plants). There are dozens of well known actors in this film. The two greatest performances come from Paul Sorvino as Henry Kissinger and Anthony Hopkins as Richard Nixon. Sorvino completely disappears into his role; he has the accent and mannerisms of the former Secretary of State down cold. Hopkins eerily recreates the late president, or at least the public persona of the man. There's a great scene where a young blonde woman hits on Nixon before he becomes president, and the reactions from Hopkins's Nixon are simply hilarious. Is it true? Who knows? Probably no truer than Stone's constant harping on some sort of shadow force running the government, first seen in "JFK" and tediously elaborated upon in "Nixon."
The DVD edition of Oliver Stone's "Nixon" abounds with extras. There's a commentary from Stone, a trailer, deleted scenes, an interview with the director conducted by Charlie Rose, and a widescreen picture transfer. Give "Nixon" a shot if you like Oliver Stone films, but don't expect to come away with an accurate picture of the late president. Those viewers looking for a fast paced film full of action should probably look elsewhere, perhaps Oliver Stone's "Platoon" if nothing else.
on February 5, 2004
I don't know about historical accuracy, but as a piece of cinematic art, NIXON is (and I don't use this word lightly) a masterpiece. Oliver Stone plays it all like an inexorable Greek tragedy, with Nixon as the larger-than-life tragic hero, surrounded by cabalistic intrigue and back-stabbing courtiers. Oval Office meetings assume sinister proportions with underlit faces and knowing looks. The white house is often shown at awkward angles, against dark clouds and thunderstorms, as if its some kind of haunted castle, or Dracula's lair. The movie is mostly talk but nowhere in all the 212 minutes did I feel bored. The dialogue crackles with menace and forboding; the script belongs in the same sparkling category as ALL ABOUT EVE and DINER. Stone's filmaking style is an engrossing mixture of bravura innovation and classical grandiloquence. My only complaint is the quality of this DVD transfer. It is non-anamorphic so you can't really take full advantage of the high-resolution potential of your 16*9 tv (or, as in my case, a 16*9 big-screen projector). Still, the images are decent to watch. What is more unforgivable is the appalling quality of the director's cut extended scenes. Obviously, they have not received the same digital treatment as the rest of the movie, so they stick out like a sore thumb. They are out-of-focus, have ghostly doubles, with diluted colours. It's a pity that such a magnificent movie received such shoddy treatment.
on December 27, 2003
Oliver Stone's film NIXON is an interesting example of what Aristotle calls "forensic rhetoric"--it is structured to provide extenuating circumstances that will lead audiences to view this president as "meaning well" when he violated his oath of office and broke his country's laws. According to this film, Richard M. Nixon, the paranoid potty-mouth who obstructed justice, was motivated by a kind of "Lincoln complex" and was just trying to preserve the Union at a time when (supposedly) it was in terrible danger of being split apart by protests against the Vietnam War. Nixon, the reasoning goes, was willing to break the law in order to save the nation. Of course, most of us, including millions of Republicans who have both brains and a sense of honor, know that this "defense" is hogwash, and the recent release of additional White House tapes further implicates Nixon in the early planning of the Watergate break-in, not just the cover-up. As an actor, Anthony Hopkins, as usual, is excellent, but only rarely and briefly can we suspend disbelief and imagine we are seeing Nixon. Other members of the cast also shine, and the script concerning their parts in this sordid chapter of our history is generally much more plausible. (Incidentally, if you want to see director Oliver Stone doing better work, view the wonderful film DAVE: in a cameo role, Stone plays a comic version of himself as conspiracy nut who just happens to be right.)
on December 27, 2003
In this Oliver Stone film we are given more 'psycho-drama' than 'biopic'. Sadly, the latter would have been more entertaining. The real story of the Nixon presidency is full of intrigue and interesting controversies that could be played out on the screen, particularly with this large a talent pool. Instead we are given a fair amount of fancy camera work, flashbacks, ominous monologues, and a muttering drunken Nixon, watched from the shadows by his aides. Why the third star? Because there are some moments just too good not to miss. If the whole film had put the same sort of energy and zeal as can be found in the scene in which Nixon meets with Ziegler and Haig before going into a ceremony for returning POW's the film would have been 5 star. A Nixon, physically and emotionally collapsing from the strain of Watergate keeps calling Ziegler by the wrong name and nervously paces while attempting to create an alternate reality and deny his impending downfall. Hopkins in this scene BECOMES Nixon. Many of the events are highly compressed, two or three significant Nixon speeches or press conferences are combined into one which is fine but the poetic license takes a turn for the laughable when the film steals a line from FUTURE history that would not be used for ten years and inserts into the mouth of Al Haig. Haig, well played by Powers Booth, bolts into a hospital emergency room, a pnuemonia afflicted Nixon in tow and brushes aside hospital personnel with a shout of "I'm in charge here" - the line he uttered at the post-assisination attempt Reagan press conference. There are excellent attempts to portray Dean and Ehrlichman, but James Woods as Haldeman veers between 'yes man' and pyschotic tyrant, not so good. Edward Hermann does a brilliant job with a tiny role as Nelson Rockefeller, New York Governor and political power broker. Fyvush Finkel also deserves mention as Nixon's political fixer - Murray Chotiner and Saul Rubinek as early Nixon press spokesman Herb Klein. When you go out of your way to put such effort into performances of smaller, yet important Nixon players why then chop up and ignore large parts of the actual historical administration and take us on such a fanciful ride of psycho-babble. It seems the great movie on Nixon is yet to be made, but this is not a bad effort.
on December 11, 2003
The first five minutes of this film made me wonder, "Why Anthony Hopkins as Nixon?" Surprisingly, however, as the film progresses, Hopkins delivers a great performance and he comes through in the clutch. While some might think his performance goes every where, I don't think it's really Hopkins' portrayal of Nixon that is unbalanced but the way the film portrays the man himself.
I felt very confused as to just how I was supposed to think of Nixon while watching this. At one moment we see a fascinating, determined man brought up with a bad family condition (two brothers killed, a hard father and religious mother), a man who is faithful to his wife and tries to please her whenever he can. Then suddenly we find a man who manipulates power, turns on friends, and seems to have a drug addiction (at least, one scene seems to point to that).
The end of the movie acts like Nixon was a victim of his own times, celebrating the achievements Nixon accomplished during his lifetime...but just an hour earlier, Oliver Stone showed bombs landing in Cambodia and added audio tracks of children screaming over the scene. Just what kind of man does he want us to think Nixon is?
In some ways this is probably another attempt by Oliver Stone to present anti-establishment feelings in a film. As said by another reviewer, Nixon himself realizes that the system is "a beast." There are other scenes in the movie that either discredit Nixon's innocence or seem to suggest like he was almost a monster: in the scene where Nixon decides on resignation he asks what other option he has, to which an aide replies "The military." This is quickly forgotten and the discussion moves on, and you wonder: why add it in at all? Was Stone trying to feed into anti-military feelings or trying to give another "The government is hunting you down" story like he did in "J.F.K." ? Nixon's ties with the mafia and other questionable references are added in and quickly forgotten, and as I said earlier you have to wonder just what sort of Nixon does Oliver Stone want us to believe in?
A scene near the beginning of the film has Nixon's aides asking what kind of Nixon the American people want to see. Perhaps Oliver Stone should have thought of that as he made this film - it has a fascinating "Stone-style" to it, but the script itself is extremely unbalanced in its pursuit.