Review by Dragan Antulov
1½ stars out of 4
Americans tend to think of the world in simple terms, and that
includes even their nation's history. Third quarter of 20th Century is
often seen as the conflict between two forces embodied by two very
different US Presidents. The first one of them was John F. Kennedy -
great statesman, courageous reformer and embodiment of youthful
idealism that was supposed to bring USA into new Golden Age.
Opposed to him was Richard M. Nixon - evil, corrupt, reactionary,
genocidal and power-hungry paranoid that nearly destroyed
American democray. While Kennedy's assassination proved to be one
of greatest American tragedies, Nixon's disgraceful removal from the
Oval office was one of great American triumphs. This perspective,
implanted by 1960s and 1970s salon leftists into Hollywood and the
rest of the world, was the reason why NIXON, 1995 biopic directed
by Oliver Stone, represents one of the greatest surprises to come from
Hollywood in the past decade.
The plot begins in June 1972, at the moment when the infamous
"Plumbers" prepare for the Watergate break-in, and ends in August
1974, with the resignation of President Richard Nixon (played by
Anthony Hopkins). The well-documented events that unfold in
between are intertwined with Nixon remembering the events that
marked both his life - traumatic childhood in 1920s California - and
the history - Chequers speech, 1960 and 1968 elections, Vietnam War
and his foreign policy triumphs.
Four years before this film Oliver Stone in JFK had accepted the
traditional "Kennedy-as-saint" gospel, so most people expected
Oliver Stone to make a hatchet job of 37th US President in NIXON.
Others expected the film to be flooded with wild conspiracy theories.
NIXON didn't meet such expectations. Oliver Stone instead gave
surprisingly serious, three-dimensional and humane portrayal of
disgraced American leader, obviously being fascinated with many
contradictory and enigmatic details of his character and biography.
While Stone doesn't shy away from showing what brought such
infamy to Nixon, he also gives his human side and even some
redeeming qualities - his patriotism, dedication to family and the
potential for true greatness. But, just like the protagonists of classic
tragedies, Nixon failed to meet such potential from his own human
weakness. This powerful message, underlined with Stone's clever
idea to turn White House into some sort of haunted Gothic castle, is
however muddled with Stone succumbing to his old conspiracy
theories and sensationalism in the most un-opportune moments. Idea
that the same people who had killed Kennedy - the "dark forces" -
played part in Nixon's downfall is intriguing; putting those forces in
the form of Texas oilman played by Larry Hagman (who had played
similar role in 1970s soap DALLAS) makes this idea into parody of
Another problem with the film is casting. Anthony Hopkins tries his
best to impersonate Nixon, but the Welsh actor under heavy make-up
is simply hard to associate with the real-life president. Joan Allen as
First Lady Pat Nixon, Paul Sorvino as Kissinger and Powers Boothe
as Alexander Haig don't seem to have such problem (and the Boothe
delivers truly chilling performance). Narrative structure of the film
also makes things difficult for viewers - in the first hour the plot
meanders between June 1972 and December 1973 and goes back to
June 1972 only to catch the classic linear structure in last two hours.
Movie also suffers because of Stone's desire to make it look "cool" by
combining different film stock, using MTV-style editing and putting
Chinese and Cyrillic characters in the scenes that feature Nixon's
meetings with leaders of China and Soviet Union. Watergate scandal
is, on the other hand, carefully recreated in all of its infamy, but those
who want to find something more about it could do better if they
watch television documentary.
At the very end of the film, when Hopkins' Nixon gets replaced with
the documentary footage of 37th President, the audience would get
impression that the real character was more intriguing and
interesting than the one portrayed in the movie. Some day in the
future the lessons from this film will serve the makers of CLINTON.
Copyright © 2003 Dragan Antulov