Nixon (1995) – Review

3 1/2 Stars


Oliver Stone’s Nixon doesn’t posses the feverish watchability of his similarly themed presidential bio-pic JFK. Although he does employ the same visual style that he used in that much more respected earlier film. Choosing a variety of film stocks and editing tricks, Stone’s film feels alive in a way that is common to his library and absent from most others. Including a decision to shot the entire childhood segment in an elegant black and white that emphasis the minimalism in Nixon’s poor upbringing, a sharp juxtaposition to the colorful period set design of the 1960’s-70s.

The small town lawyer turned senator who ran for president three times before finally winning the election, is handled with superb skill by master thespian Anthony Hopkins. While at first glance the Welshman may not seem like a likely choice to play the 37th president, in actuality he is the only choice. Hopkins and Oliver Stone have found moments of levity, outrage and empathy for one of the most infamous characters and events in American political history.

The first hour explores the roots of young Richard Milhous Nixon. As he deftly navigates the political climate and his involvement with McCarthyism. The most interesting aspect of this section is the subtle confrontation and insecurities between the hardworking never catch a break Nixon and the silver-plater golden child John Kennedy.

The middle hour is primarily set during the run up to and eventual presidential election and the beginning of the Vietnam era. This second hour is highlighted by a fascinating (and fictional) scene in which Nixon talks to a group of anti-war protestors and the foot of the Lincoln memorial. While the third and final hour of this epic tale is primarily interested in the escalating Watergate scandal.

Nixon is a gargantuan achievement. Anthony Hopkins is dead on in his portrayal of the title character. It is a mesmerizing performance, and the kind of sturdy acting that is uniform down the line with this distinguished cast. Nearly every speaking role is fleshed out by a famous face, helping to separate character and events when things get complicated. It is difficult truly to get a grasp on what Stone’s view of Nixon is. This is a man that opened trade with China, ended the Vietnam War and made peace with Russia. Yet his entire legacy was undermined by a botched burglary. It is a uniquely tragic American tale, and both Stone and Hopkins prove themselves up for the monumental task of bringing it to life.

Director: Oliver Stone
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Joan Allen, James Woods

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