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NIXON (1995) *** ½

Oliver Stone’s Nixon lacks the precision editing and the sucker punch power of his previous presidential film, JFK.  That doesn’t mean it’s any less fascinating.  It’s a sprawling docudrama that’s probably a bit too sprawling for it’s own good.  Like Nixon, the film’s reach exceeds it’s grasp, but it’s still a pretty great movie.

 

With a presidential legacy that included Vietnam and Watergate, it would’ve been real easy for Stone to paint Nixon as a black and white villain.  Instead he gives us several shades of gray and makes him a compelling and complex character.  Stone’s Nixon is a man haunted by his own personal demons and fueled by jealousy and a desire to be loved.  And as with JFK, Stone shows us a president who’s basically a whipping boy for the CIA and unable to control the machinations of his own government (which Nixon refers to as “The Beast”).

 

In addition to the disjointed plotting and overlong running time, the flick’s main stumbling block is Anthony Hopkins as Richard Nixon.  He doesn’t look anything like Nixon (unless you have glaucoma maybe) and his voice borders on caricature.  At all times he just looks like Anthony Hopkins playing Richard Nixon on an SNL sketch or something.  Because he IS Anthony Hopkins though, he’s still a lot of fun to watch.

 

The supporting cast is gangbusters.  Joan Allen is terrific as the long-suffering Pat Nixon.  How she didn’t snag an Oscar, I’ll never know.  I think my favorite performance of the flick belonged to James Woods as H.R. Haldeman.  His scenes with Nixon were easily the best of the whole movie.  I also liked Paul Sorvino as Henry Kissinger, Powers Boothe as Alexander Haig, and Joanna Going as a random hippie chick Nixon raps with at the Lincoln Memorial.

 

Man, speaking of Joanna Going, where the Hell has she been?  I thought she was going to be the It Girl in the 90’s.  Her performances in films like Keys to Tulsa and Phantoms were easily the best thing about those movies, mostly because she was looking damned fine.  Come back Joanna, we miss you.

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