Film - Nixon

Nixon

Steve Taylor-Bryant watches a biopic from Oliver Stone to see if he can learn more about Richard Nixon...

It's the President's personal property. I will never give up my tapes to a bunch of Kennedy-loving Harvard Democrat cocksuckers.

Richard Millhouse Nixon was as divisive as he was controversial. As someone who has read quite a lot on the 37th President of the United States I still don't know what I think of the man. Yes there were crimes committed and we shall get to them soon. Yes there was almost apocalyptic decision making, but there was also a sad little boy inside him who genuinely thought he knew how to fix the world but bottled it as he chased the nations love. Whoever told Nixon's story would get it wrong so when the idea of a biopic was first mooted it became a wish list of who would get it less wrong than the others, a casting choice I did not envy the films writer and director Oliver Stone for. Jack Nicholson and Warren Beaty came and went, John Malkovich was even being considered at one point but eventually the incredible Anthony Hopkins got the part and what a part he played.

The film itself covers everything except the Frost interview and Watergate casts a huge shadow. For those not sure what Watergate is basically 5 men broke into the Democratic National Committee rooms in the Watergate Office Complex. Nixon's administration however covered up their involvement in the break in, their funding of the men, and their refusal to help any investigation at any level which eventually led to the resignation rather than impeachment of Nixon. Whilst Watergate was the big scandal that will always be synonymous with Nixon's reign it was not the act that led to his downfall and he also had image issues which contributed to his policy and decision making process. Nixon lost to John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1960, with many blaming the televised debate where an unwell Nixon was profusely sweating and his opponents natural swagger won the audience (anyone who reads a transcript or listens to an audio of that debate will have a different opinion as Kennedy had little of substance to say and Nixon sounded like the more experienced statesman) which led to Nixon's long held belief that the Kennedy boys would always win and the American people would always go for the glitziest of party members not necessarily the one most capable of holding office.

"Richard M. Nixon: [to a portrait of Kennedy] When they look at you, they see what they want to be. When they look at me, they see what they are."

Nixon

This Inner turmoil and conflict was portrayed without flaw by a Hopkins now recognised by his peers and audience alike as an actor at the top of his game. His speech and accent was more than passable, although Lector does creep in occasionally, and his mannerisms were spot on. The victory salute, the holding his arms crossed, the almost evil smile were all there and with some exceptional lighting and special effects in places Hopkins produced, in my opinion, one of his best performances. A top actor is only as good as the cast members he has to play off and the ensemble around Hopkins was a veritable who's who of Hollywood greats. James Woods, Bob Hoskins, even Larry "JR" Hagman all produced the high level of realism required for Hopkins to dance his tune. It was the role of Pat "Buddy" Nixon played by Joan Allen that came very close to stealing the screen from Hopkins. Allen plays the tiredness of years of campaigning and the frustration Pat had towards her husband with aplomb. The confrontational moments, running again and wanting the people to love him, show two actors that are completely immersed in their characters and as a viewer I completely bought Hopkins and Allen as a power couple, as a political couple, but more so as a couple who conflict in their marriage but whose love keeps them going.

Nixon

The writing of Stone, Christopher Wilkinson, and Stephen J. Rivele is captivating. Nixon's early life with an overbearing mother and the loss of his brothers to illness lead to an understanding of why Nixon had some of the issues he had in later life. The factual elements are all written with the added intrigue a biopic needs to grab its audience and the writing team delivered a story and dialogue to the cast that made the entire project work very well. Stone is a favourite director of mine and his love of politics comes through in the film where he tries to show more of Nixon than just the headlines. His editing, use of special effects and quite a subtle score by John Williams all make for a fascinating film.

Do I know more about Nixon now I've seen the film? Yes. Can I sum up the man now? No, but the movie's Henry Kissinger can...

Can you imagine what this man would be like had anyone ever loved him?

Follow Steve on Twitter @STBwrites
Image - IMDb.