Oliver Stone’s Nixon is in so many ways a film that’s very similar in feel and treatment to his much acclaimed JFK which also happens to be one of my all-time favorite films from Hollywood and features in my list of “great films” of all times. Nixon may not be in the same league as JFK but it serves as a very personal and intimate look at the life and times of one of the most controversial presidents of the Unites States. The narrative is fractured and unfolds in three recognizable tracks. The flash back shot in black and white shows us a very humble and sometimes plain painful upbringing of Nixon. The second track involves another flashback that shows us Nixon’s rise to presidency and a third track shows us the present time wherein he is actually listening to the infamous White House recorded tapes, bringing back old memories that trigger the other two tracks just before he is to submit to what seems to be his imminent future.
Just like JFK, there is an air of conspiracy and “something not being right” all throughout the film. The screenplay is crammed with events and anecdotes that will require multiple views to be understood and enjoyed completely. The screenplay though not linearly structured should not be too difficult to follow as long as you are paying enough attention. One only has to listen to the dialogs keenly and try to follow the event and bang!!! a familiar name appears that you can then tag to an event you heard of before. The director tries to interpret the actions of the man and tries to justify his decisions and show us why he might have done it. I don’t believe it will be credible to call his interpretations the actual reasons for the actions of a man as unpredictable as Nixon but one thing is for sure that the director’s takeaways are extremely enterprising.
Anthony Hopkins is a great actor and he take to the character like a natural. Without the need for an elongated nose as was the case with many Nixon interpretations, Hopkins brilliantly gels into the lunacy and sometimes dictator like attitude of a man who felt whatever he was doing was for the greater good of people. The manner in which he emotes through the scenes where Nixon is bombing Cambodia or when he is facing student agitations or for that matter his last speech is brilliant. Hopkins is present in every scene of the film and he makes his act count. His performance is so engrossing that it takes your attention away from some of the many inherent flaws that many critics have sighted over the years.
Joan Allen plays Pat Nixon, his wife and confidante. The film is as much about his political career as it is about his strange relation with Pat. While in the beginning he decides to leave politics just to be the husband that Pat wants him to be, he very soon shuts her completely out of his life as he runs after an elusive goal. Allen brings about the intricacies of Pat deftly as through her expressions and rendering of the character, we get a good and clear feel of how actually Mrs. Nixon might have felt in those moments. This is truly Allen’s most accomplished work so far. Bob Hoskins plays J Edgar Hoover. The man has a magnetic persona and though he is there just for a few scenes, he very nearly steals the show from Hopkins. Paul Sorvino plays Henry Kissinger with aplomb.
The film is stacked with details and important events that actually lead up to the events of the Water Gate. While the inspirations of Nixon to do something as stupid as the break-ins is wonderfully presented and almost justified, the screenplay also does enough to convey the feeling that Nixon might not have been in the right mind when he was doing what he was doing. His aids are often shown questioning his judgement and he never for once pays any heed. It was his paranoia that made him approve the “Plumbers” and give his own future in the hands of people like Liddy and Hunt.
To me, Nixon was a nearly flawless film. I was engrossed in the story and the performances. I could feel a bond with the protagonist and I cheered as well as lambasted his actions in my heart. I felt for him and at the same time I wanted him gone. The director has succeeded if he has been able to extract so much from the audiences. The film has the technical finesse that we have come to associate with Oliver Stone films. The editing in particular was mesmerizing. Not only did it hit the right tempo but also wonderfully mixed up the different types of footages to provide a compounded effect. Close-ups, quick cuts, black and white segments, inter-cuts are used effectively to give a haphazard feel to the happening much like the state of mind of the protagonist.
Nixon to me was an entertainer at heart but also a film that had an important story to tell. Stone once again made a film that was worthy of many re-watches. To be able to make a film like that about a man who has already found voice and picture in almost every form of the media was not an easy task but Stone did well to make a picture that was not only entertaining but felt fresh and informative. This film can also be enjoyed at varied levels but just don’t get your history lessons from this one. Hopkins and Allen’s performances, Stone’s direction and the story in itself makes this film an endless entertainer and a must watch for one and all.
Rating : 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)