Largely compelling and a history lesson as dramatic entertainment, Stone’s ambitious if sometimes heavy-handed portrait of the flawed presidency of Richard Nixon borders on Shakespearean tragedy.
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Joan Allen, Ed Harris, Bob Hoskins, Paul Sorvino, Powers Boothe
Plot: A biographical story of former U.S. President Richard Nixon, from his days as a young boy, to his eventual Presidency, which ended in shame.
Awards: Nom. for 4 Oscars – Best Leading Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score; Official Selection (Berlinale)
Subject Matter: Moderate – U.S. Politics; Nixon Presidency
Narrative Style: Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Nixon somewhat pales in comparison when placed alongside Oliver Stone’s other picture about an ex-US president, JFK (1991), which is, in my opinion, one of the greatest (and scariest) films of all time, centering on the conspiracy theories behind John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
But take it on its own, Nixon is an able work that is less about conspiracies but a history lesson as dramatic entertainment.
That is not to say that Stone didn’t take creative liberties in portraying the flawed presidency of Richard Nixon, which unsurprisingly irked the Nixon family, especially when the film was released just a year after he passed on.
Running more than three hours, Nixon tracks some of the most tumultuous times of the president’s reign, including of course the Watergate scandal, but also occasionally revisits his much more modest childhood in Whittier, California.
“Can you imagine what this man would be like had anyone ever loved him?”
Starring Anthony Hopkins in the titular role, an odd casting choice but one that earned him his third Oscar nomination, and Joan Allen as wife Pat Nixon, we get mostly involving performances that are theatrically showy when they need to be.
In a way, Stone’s work borders on Shakespearean tragedy, painting Nixon as a victim of his own paranoia and ego. Shot and edited with consummate skill, but lacking the spark and unnerving disquiet of JFK, Nixon can sometimes feel heavy-handed just by its ambition to impress.
But Stone somehow keeps it all together in the only way he can—by not being subtle about the fact that an ostentatious president like Nixon, warts and all, deserves a biopic with all the rattle and dazzle the director could muster.