Oliver Stone has both Brezhnev and Kissinger state, on separate occasions, that Richard Nixon’s tale is a tragedy, and his Nixon certainly assumes an empathetic position on its disgraced presidential subject. This does not, however, mean that it’s a particularly kind portrait, as Stone’s epic – charting the 40th commander-in-chief’s childhood, early career, and Oval Office tenure from his own warped perspective – depicts the confluence of forces that shaped Nixon (Anthony Hopkins) not in order to absolve him, but merely to comprehend what drove him to such ignominious lengths. What the writer/director comes up with is a litany of internal and external stimuli: his Quaker mother’s stern belief in strength above all other virtues (including happiness); his aspirations to be a Lincoln-esque uniter; his lifelong bitter resentment at being unpopular and bullied; and the way those feelings fostered a persecution complex so deep it drove him to see JFK as his light-dark counterpoint (and personal tormentor), the world as out to get him, and himself – via intermittent references to himself in the third person – as America’s, and the world’s, nucleus. Stone’s predilection for the grandiose is in ample evidence, from a shot of CIA chief Richard Helms (Sam Waterston) with all-black devil eyes (in a scene reinserted into the new director’s cut), to a pre-resignation Nixon disproving his earlier statement that men don’t cry while praying alongside Kissinger (Paul Sorvino). Yet the filmmaker’s deftness at evoking theme and sentiment through editorial montages within individual dramatic scenes reaches an apotheosis here. Stone employs breathtaking cutaways during conversations (so that a shot of a character speaking will be interrupted by a fleeting, silent shot of them flashing genuine emotion), constant camera tricks, different film stocks, and flashbacks and archival footage to create a multilayered, invigorating psychological account of a president consumed by bile and obsessed with legacy. Even as it teeters on the edge of (and, on a couple of occasions, tips over into) overblown extravagance, Nixon is an imposing model of cinematic storytelling forms, cemented by an all-star cast led by Hopkins’ tour-de-force titular performance – nailing Nixon’s mannerisms, body language and consuming loneliness and anger – as a man beautifully described by Watergate perp E. Howard Hunt (Ed Harris) as “the darkness reaching out for the darkness.”
Good short review. The Russian who calls Nixon's situation "tragic" was Leonid Brezhnev (or the guy who was with Brezhnev, I don't remember exactly which of the two), not Kruschev who was deposed by his own party about 10 years before the Watergate scandal.
Posted by: Howard | June 20, 2011 at 12:48 PM
You're right. Thanks for the heads-up.
Posted by: nschager | June 20, 2011 at 01:17 PM