This is one of many biopics made by Director Oliver Stone (JFK). But this one is about the only president to resign from office, Richard Nixon (Anthony Hopkins). It looks through the microscope at his Quaker upbringing, early political ambitions in law school and his relationship with his gracious wife Pat (Joan Allen). His contradictions are highlighted early in the malicious campaign against Helen Douglas and the Checkers speech.
His loss at the hands of John F Kennedy in the 1960 election, swiftly followed by defeat in 1962 California gubernatorial election were a great blow to him. At this point, he seemed to be damaged goods, and his career was finished. This man lacked in charisma and likability but he was a political animal, taking the opportunity to run for president in 1968, off the backs of attacking the anti-Vietnam War movement. When he’s firmly in office, doing well in the polls of the 1972 election, his growing paranoia goes full throttle triggering the Watergate Scandal.
Oliver Stone movies tend to have a historical and/or political backing to them, from JFK to Wall Street to Platoon to even The Doors. If not historical or political, then certainly a very thought-provoking social commentary that make you scratch your head and go “hmmm.” He’s a pusher for critical thinking through his films, but also off-screen as well. He’s outspoken and many of his opinions are very controversial from his brutal honesty to his dabbling in conspiracy theories as we saw with JFK. What’s more, is that he is a humanist in the way that he shows that life is precious but in direct comparison, he shows that the world is the way it is because of the selfish ambitions of humanity. Nixon is truly an excellent take on one of the most revered yet one of the most hated political figures of the 20th century.
The film doesn’t want to forgive Nixon at all, more like get inside his head and poke around to see what motivates and stimulates. It’s essentially a psychoanalysis to see what makes him tick, and why he was capable of such greatness and unforgivable atrocities. Welshman Anthony Hopkins (Silence Of The Lambs) gives a masterclass performance is Tricky Dicky in Nixon. Stone’s Nixon shows the good, the bad and the ugly of the former-President. Through his military background, Nixon is a man of discipline but he’s not completely evil and many of his flaws date back to his Quaker upbringing. One event in anyone’s life can dictate what kind of adult they can be, and we see that with Richard’s mother Hannah Nixon (Mary Steenburgen). There are various flashbacks to his childhood, and these scenes contribute to the man he becomes. Now we know where the despair, sadness and hate derive from.
I liked the general look of Nixon as it was alike to JFK with its visuals depicting the blowing the lid of The Watergate Scandal, in the same sense of confusion when Kennedy was shot in JFK. I also like the way Stone makes his political biopics like documentaries, but at the same time, you know it’s a feature movie. He did the same thing with JFK and W. (2008). We are constantly subjected to wide-angle closeups of Nixon. It’s like he’s posing for portrait which symbolizes to his obsession with former presidents, most notably Abraham Lincoln. He’s obsessed with great presidents and how he will go down in history. He’s hellbent on whether he will be remembered in a good light more than if he did a good job. I think one of the most poignant moments of the movie is when a student confronts him, calling the political system a “wild beast” since it can’t be tamed. Through the lens, Stone picks apart one man, despite his flaws, a man who tried to play God with political nature, failed and died in the process, well in a metaphorical sense.
A sensational film about one of history’s most hated figures