Biographical story of former U.S. president Richard Milhouse Nixon, from his days as a young boy to his eventual presidency which ended in shame.
Reviled, despised and shunned by the public and media alike, a misunderstood genius who struggled to fulfil personal dreams against the odds, a man who always saw the bigger picture and struggled against the might of the system . . . You’ve got to feel for Oliver Stone. He makes the most penetrating, unyielding studio films around, and everybody gets up on their high horse and shouts about historical veracity, botty crunching running times and interminably complex plotting.
Yes, Nixon is way too long. Yes, it assumes too much knowledge of the most controversial term of office in America’s presidential history. Perhaps it massages known facts into a more colourful order. But it is also a tour de force of mighty acting that skilfully entwines intrigue and tension into a swirling world of political scheming, paranoia and self-destruction, and paints a moving picture of a man undone by self-loathing and misguided idealism. Nixon plays out like a Shakespearean tragedy — Macbeth as performed by the White House administration of the early 70s.
With Stone’s arsenal of camera trickery at work, the film commences with Watergate — although it never really explains what the crucial scandal was all about — the linchpin for the abridged bio of Richard Nixon (Hopkins) complete with Freudian childhood trauma, mucho conspiracy (spot Larry Hagman’s Texan oilman out for JFK assassination), superlative talkfests in the Oval office and the eventual fall from grace as Watergate bursts forth. There is so much meat here sometimes it is hard to swallow.
Hopkins is simply magnificent, recognisably Nixonian but not a bald-faced imitation, tapping the psychological torment of the man (Nixon, Stone demands, was not a monster, just a flawed human) and visibly similar without an ounce of prosthetic. Then there’s Joan Allen’s poignant Pat Nixon, and an array of those actors who always deliver: Harris, Woods, J.T. Walsh, Powers Boothe and Mary Steenburgen.
Oliver Stone makes movies like hammer blows to the head, that leave you physically drained but totally nourished. Weighty? Nixon has its own gravitational pull.
Long but consistently engaging biopic.
Reviewed by Ian Nathan