Next up is the first in a set of films I’m going to do about Richard Nixon, with today focusing on his life and career with Nixon, tomorrow focusing on the Watergate investigation with All The President’s Men and the day after with the Frost/Nixon interviews in well Frost/Nixon. Today though is focusing on Nixon’s life and this film feels like a pretty comprehensive background to Nixon’s life and career as President and a pretty good film comes out of it through Oliver Stone’s direction and the performances.
The film focuses on the life of Richard Nixon from his childhood as the son of a shop owner in California through his political career, ending with his resignation due to the Watergate scandal. Through this we see his work in the Communist witch hunts in the 1950s, his work brokering deals with China and his escalation of the war in Vietnam, his conflict with student protesters and, the main theme of the film, his rivalry with the Kennedy’s and J Edgar Hoover with Nixon blaming a lot of the negative press about him on the Kennedy’s and problems in his career on Hoover. Within all of this, a brilliant character study of Nixon is created, showing Nixon as being highly committed to what he believes but also showing fear over losing his power, his paranoia over the Kennedy’s, along with him being keen to backstab and sabotage the Kennedy’s whenever he gets the chance, along with medical problems that he is faced with and the fear that these problems will return, especially since his brother died as a result of TB. All of these show Nixon as a deeply flawed person but not the evil tyrant that many people make him out to be and the film goes out of its way to show that Nixon did some good in his time, but within the small elements of good he did, the awful stuff he did (mainly the escalation of the Vietnam war after he promised to end it) is inexcusable. The film tries to paint Nixon in a sympathetic light but the nature of Nixon himself means that the film is not fully successful in this regard.
If there is anything that helps present Nixon in a sympathetic light though, it’s Anthony Hopkins as Nixon. All of the sympathy that I felt for Nixon throughout the film came from Hopkins’ performance and, whilst he doesn’t look anything like Nixon, he nails Nixon’s voice and mannerisms to create a really interesting, sympathetic portrayal of Nixon. Paul Sorvino meanwhile, whilst not getting much to do as Henry Kissinger, nails the stuff he does get, he looks and sounds exactly like Kissinger here and the way he interacts with Hopkins is brilliant. There is also great work done by James Woods, Joan Allen, Powers Boothe, David Hyde Pierce, Ed Harris, Bob Hoskins, Tony Goldwyn and Mary Steenburgen. Since the cast is so large, a lot of these actors don’t really get that much to do, but this allows the main focus on the film to stay on Hopkins’ performance as Nixon.
On a technical level, Oliver Stone’s direction is solid throughout and the recreation of period details, mainly in regards to the Nixon White House work and telling the film in a non-linear fashion helps display key moments about Nixon’s character in the past at points in the present where they are relevant but there is one area where the film falls flat and that’s the editing. Many of the editing decisions made feel like a cheap attempt to be artistic, as seen in Nixon’s meetings with the Russian and Chinese leaders, and this just sucked me out of the experience and, since there are many moments like this in the 3 hour runtime of the film, I got infuriated really quickly.
Overall, Nixon is a pretty good film. Whilst the way the film attempts to portray Nixon doesn’t fully work in the script and the editing is absolutely atrocious, the performance by Anthony Hopkins as Nixon is excellent and this helps to elevate the script and the film as a whole into a pretty decent experience, even if it does feel way too long at points.
My Rating: 3/5