A Review of Oliver Stone's Nixon by Hadley [Comments by Hannah]
When Nixon first came out, I forced my hapless then-boyfriend to go see it with me in retaliation for his making me sit through Dune in its entirity. [Hadley's boyfriends were all pretty hapless, current one excluded.] Prior to watching the movie, he knew nothing about Watergate, and unfortunately he didn't know anything more leaving the theater, only he was really pissed at me. I, on the other hand, had some [some?] prior knowledge, and found myself even more bored. Oliver Stone attempts to cover Nixon's entire life in 3 1/2 hours, and, frankly, that's a little more Nixon than the layman can really handle.
Predictably, the movie opens with the break-in and unfolds around it, framing it as the pivotal event of the Nixon presidency. It proceeds, through, flashbacks, to tell the story of Nixon's Quaker upbringing on "the poorest lemon ranch in California". For a guy who looks nothing like Nixon, I must say that Anthony Hopkins does a phenomenal job. He aptly illustrates the complexity of Nixon's neuroses, including his Kennedy inferiority complex and his desperate need to be loved. The early childhood scenes do give us a context in which to attempt to understand Nixon, the man, but the movie falls short in adequately explaining the roots of Nixon's tragic flaws.
We can't have an Oliver Stone flick without a good conspiracy [was there a conspiracy in The Doors?], so Stone links Nixon's involvement in the Bay of Pigs to the Kennedy assasination. He also implies that Nixon's fear of this link being discovered is one of the reasons he insisted protecting Hunt and the other Cubans [I think Nixon just loved Cubans], who were also involved in the plot to remove Castro. At one point, Nixon says that four bodies paved the way to his presidency, and we are left to wonder about the other two. [Checkers makes three...]
Due to the extraordinary length and summary nature of the film, I had just about had enough before I even got to the part about Watergate. This might have been the reason I was very unforgiving of Stone's portrayal of John Ehrlichman as the conscience of the White House. Or maybe it's just because that is a blatant lie. Interestingly, John Dean and Alexander Butterfield acted as consultants to the film. I have a theory that this is the only conceivable reason why John Dean comes off as slightly witty. [Anyone who thinks there is another conceivable reason raise your hand. I didn't think so.] In one scene, Dean is meeting Howard Hunt on a bridge to make a pay off, and Hunt sneaks up behind him, scaring him. Dean quips "If you'd been that stealthy at the Watergate, we wouldn't be in this mess." I doubt it. [I doubt Dean could remember any specific conversations, drinking as much as he was then.]
Nixon's demise is drawn out for such an excruciating length of time that one can only conclude that Stone relished the President's suffering. I felt sorry for the guy before it was over. Just in case you missed the tragic hero narrative (and thus the entire point of the movie), Kissinger and Breznev beat you over the head with it in two separate scenes. "He was so close to greatness. . ." Nixon goes so far as to declare himself a sacrifice to the gods of war. [Didn't you know he was just working for peace??] Thanks, Oliver, we got it.
Perhaps most disturbing of all, in the epilogue the Cambodian genocide is referred to as a "sideshow" to Vietnam. If that was an attempt at sarcasm, I , for one, wasn't laughing. [Neither were the Cambodians, for that matter.]
In conclusion, I can't really think of a good reason to see this film. If you get excited at the thought of J Edgar Hoover eating fruit out of the mouth of a little boy [who doesn't?], you're in for two thrilling minutes. Otherwise, this movie is downright boring from start to finish. I can certainly commend Stone for the project, after all, what could be more interesting? However, the movie fails on every account to deliver an accurate, interesting, insightful or entertaining picture of Watergate, or even of Nixon in general.Back to the Main Watergate Page.