Rated R. Running time: 3 hours 12 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 1; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 2 .
Our star rating (1-5): 4
Director Oliver Stone atones for his fast and loose playing with history in JFK by offering a fairly balanced portrait of our troubled, and troubling, 37th President There are still plenty of liberties taken for dramatic effect, and there is enough ominous, suspenseful music for three ordinary films, but all in all, thanks to a wonderful cast headed by Sir Anthony Hopkins, Nixon is a fascinating interpretation of the life and times of one of our most controversial Chief Executives. This is a film whose director is indebted to Orson Welles, as in our first view of the White House – it is a dark and stormy night, much like the one at the opening of “Citizen Kane,” when we first see Xanadu. And just as we learn that the powerful Charles Foster Kane’s fatal flaw is his lack of love, so we are told by Henry Kissinger that his boss would have been a great man if he had known love (words actually said by another of President Nixon’s associates). Although there is no Rosebud, we are often taken back to
Mr. Nixon’s childhood, where in flashbacks we learn of the trauma of his beloved brother who died of tuberculosis. He apparently suffered from survivor’s guilt – their deaths meant that the family’s meager resources went to Richard’s education – and later, it was the death of the envied Kennedy brothers that opened his way to the White House.
Although his opportunistic use of the anti-Communist hysteria is played down (we see little of the smear tactics he used against his opponents in his runs for Congress), we see plenty of his paranoia, his sense of “us against them” – them being the Eastern establishment and the Press – which became a fatal flaw.
As played by Hopkins, Pres. Nixon is a complex man of mercurial temperament, able to see the big issues of international politics at times, capable of tenderness, and quickly changing to a vindictive, mean-spirited tyrant in an instant. The stellar cast is excellent, especially Joan Allen as his long-suffering wife who comes close to leaving him a couple of times. Paul Sorvino is especially apt in his eerie portrayal of Henry Kissinger.
Whether you are a Nixon hater or supporter, you should find plenty to think about in Stone’s Hamlet-like Nixon. Oddly enough, this film of a terribly flawed President is often playing across from the fictional Caprasque An American President.
Reprinted from the Fe. 1995 Visual Parables.