review for Nixon on AllMovie

Nixon (1995)
by Todd Kristel review

Nixon is not a subtle movie, but at least Oliver Stone tries to depict the former president as a tragic character instead of a one-dimensional villain or victim. As the film switches haphazardly between different points in Richard Nixon's life, viewers see that his cold and demanding parents helped shape him into a stiff, socially awkward adult who resented the more charismatic people around him. Feeling unloved and misunderstood, he eventually became undone later in life by his own resentment and paranoia. Anthony Hopkins manages to convey these aspects of Nixon's personality while bringing some pathos to his role, but he's not totally convincing as the former president. He doesn't look like the real-life Richard Nixon and his speaking voice doesn't resemble Nixon's famous unmodulated baritone. Furthermore, he doesn't convey the "stronger" elements of Nixon's personality, such as the craftiness and ambitiousness that enabled him to become a successful politician. Even though this film is ostensibly a character study of Richard Nixon, he often seems like a passive cog in the political machinery. This may be compatible with Stone's belief that the "Beast" (the forces of big business and government that control our lives) is so powerful that even Nixon himself wasn't able to dominate it; however, Stone undermines the credibility of his viewpoint by laying it on too thick and adding too many questionable conspiracy theories (e.g., linking a cabal of Texas millionaires to the JFK assassination). The fact remains that the real-life Richard Nixon was a driven politician who rebounded from several career setbacks to achieve the highest office in the land; this film makes it too easy to forget that he could act decisively and effectively. Indeed, he seems less astute than his wife Pat, who is portrayed as more cagey and articulate than her public persona. Allen's performance is quite good if you accept her interpretation of the role; likewise, James Woods seems fine if you accept that his portrayal of H.R. Halderman seems less imposing than his real-life counterpart. Paul Sorvino does an impression of Henry Kissinger that's both impressive and somewhat creepy, while Bob Hoskins camps it up as J. Edgar Hoover (Stone seems to enjoy drawing attention to Hoover's sexual orientation). Although the actors might not be exact duplicates of the real-life characters they portray, the cast is solid enough to carry much of the film. Unfortunately, Stone's heavy-handed filmmaking style undermines the human elements of his movie. Neither intimate nor tightly paced, Nixon feels like a visual assault with jump cuts, superimposed images, jarring shifts between camera angles and film stocks, and changes between color and black-and-white; borrowing from real-life incidents (e.g., the Lincoln Memorial scene) as well as films such as Citizen Kane (e.g., the scene in which Richard Nixon argues with his wife at the dinner table), Stone tries unsuccessfully to compensate for a disjointed narrative structure with sheer filmmaking bravado. Consequently, the movie seems ham-fisted, which is admittedly not surprising quality for an Oliver Stone film. It is more disappointing in this particular instance, however, since it appears that Stone was attempting to present a more nuanced view of politics.