Throughout the course of American history the man who ascended to the title of President has been set apart from other historical figures. He not only governed the American people but provided direction for the world. One of the most honored and a vilified president ever to sit in the Oval Office was Richard Milhous Nixon. He may have opened diplomatic relations to the People’s Republic of China and created the policy of détente with the Soviet Union but he will be forever remembered by history as the only president to resign his office is disgrace. He presided over one of the most unpopular and infamous wars in history; Viet Nam. Under his administration the youth of America rose up inactive protest of his policies and his very person. In 1974 a little break in at the Watergate hotel performed a few years prior brought down a president. When Nixon resigned the nation was shocked. In college campuses all over the country classes stopped. People at their jobs halted their work to listen to the announcement. Richard Nixon’s political career was over. The complete truth about this man as a person and the president may never be fully disclosed or understood but there is one film that attempts to bring the theories and supposition together; ‘Nixon’ by Oliver Stone. While it is based on some lengthy and in depth novels about the man and takes leads from the public record it is important to remember that this film is a story not a documentary.
This is not to say that the film is not entertaining; it is. Stone is a master class director and gives his all to this movie and the production shows it. Just take everything in this film with a rather large grain of salt. I was part of the generation that protested the war and the draft and Nixon is all too often painted entirely as a villain. The facts are he made some significant advances in foreign policy that were overshadowed by the turmoil at home and the growing involvement in Viet Nam. Stone is part of this generation and there is some of the movie that is colored by the director’s own life and experience. This is natural and understandable but has to be considered while watching the film. The film was previously released to DVD in 1999 and again as special edition in 2002 but both have been discontinued for awhile. Now, Buena Vista has chosen this presidential election year to re-release the film to DVD and Blu-ray. This is the extended director’s cut so there are some scenes that you may have never seen before.
Oliver Stone is an immensely talented writer and director who is used to controversy and certainly familiar with the concept of conspiracy theories. His previous presidential epic ‘J.F.K.’ was hailed as a masterpiece and feed several alternate theories as to the murder of President Kennedy. This film made the phrase ‘back and to the left’ part of the popular lexicon. Most of his films have created major buzz for his perchance of pushing things to the limit. He seems to enjoy creating films about men who lived on the edge of society’s norm like Jim Morrison and many of his films deal with the Viet Nam war like ‘Born of the Forth of July’ and ‘Platoon’. Much of this came from personal experience; he fought in Viet Nam after dropping out of Yale University. In this movie Stone attempts to make sense of what happened in Nixon’s administration. He takes a long, hard look at the man not just the President. He shows Nixon as a disturbed man haunted by the decisions he made, mostly in good faith. Nixon is depicted as an individual who loved his country but also loved the power and glory of the office.
The arduous task of portraying Richard Nixon went to Sir Anthony Hopkins. He is a consummate professional who gives one of the best performances of a career studded with amazing roles. The key to how Hopkins presents Nixon is he does not try to do any form of impersonation. This is not some comedy skit shows that is poking fun at the man. Hopkins takes his characterization of Nixon to a profoundly deep level. He embodies both the man and the president. He shows him as a man who is under siege from all sides. He was a politician who had an agenda but he was also the most powerful man in the world. Hopkins shows the growing sense of dread and increasing paranoia welling up in Nixon. When his ultimate fall comes there is no sigh of relief only the feeling that a major part of American history was at a close. Also equal to a daunting task of playing Pat Nixon is Joan Allen. She plays a character that was generally seen by the public as a wisp of a woman standing silent beside her husband. Allen gives us a woman who loves her husband and feels for all the problems that surround him. Pat Nixon offered comfort to the man but could do little for the president.
This film concentrates on the Watergate break in and his historical aftermath. When a group of men broke into the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic National Committee they did more than install some wire taps and obtain a few documents. They put in motion a series of events that would topple a president. The ramifications of this act rippled through the nation. The film has an eclectic group of actors in the key roles. As the White House Consul, John Dean we have David Hyde Pierce. He may be best known as the whiny little brother on the TV sit-com ‘Frazier’ but here he demonstrates his acting chops. Paul Savino as Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is mesmerizing to watch. One of the best performances here is by John Diehl as G. Gordon Liddy, who was the mastermind behind the break in. Usually he is played as a madman but Diehl gives us a look at a man who is dedicated to his president and willing to do what ever is necessary. I have always been a fan of James Woods but his portrayal of White House Chief of Staff H.R. ‘Bob’ Haldeman is simply incredible. He gives a performance of a man who is the power behind the office who has to scramble to keep his administration in its position.
The first act of the film is a bit disorganized. It jumps back and forth in time between the 20s, 30s and 60s trying to show the formative years of Nixon. This does serve to give some perspective of the man but it is at times difficult to follow. It takes the straightforward narrative of the story and fragments it. The filming and cinematography is excellent. Stone knows how to visual engage the audience and not let them go. There are little touches like some of the physical quirks of Nixon that helps to pulls the youthful man together with the president we all know.
This is by far the best presentation of the film ever. The DVD offers a brilliantly clear anamorphic 2.40:1 video with a well balanced color palette. The Dolby 5.1 audio is robust with an excellent sound stage and channel separation. There is some retread and some new extras provided. There are two separate commentary tracks by Stone; one focusing on the making of the film while the other is mostly his ideas and theories. Included are several deleted scenes each introduced by Stone with an explanation of why they were excluded in the theatrical cut. Also here is an interview by Charlie Rose with Stone and an all new making of documentary by Sean Stone. This was an important part of our history and while the film is subjective it is well worth owing.