Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Nixon (1995)

Whilst my fellow film fans are spending their time watching films featuring the likes of Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, I decided to witness the real bogeyman of America in the run up to Halloween.

Oliver Stone's 1995 film Nixon remains my favourite of the director's works. Granted some of the striking imagery - a trademark of Stone's specifically in his previous film, the first in the presidential trilogy JFK - may appear a little heavy handed, dated and ill employed now, but this is still a toweringly provocative and blackly rich work.

I think it was Hunter S Thompson in his book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail (which followed Nixon's road to gaining a second term in '72) who said that the trust and faith in the presidency was lost in LBJ's reign, a tenure which showed up the horrors of unlimited power to the world, warts and all. Personally though, and perhaps because I'm British rather than American, I have never truly been one of those people who placed the leaders of the US on a pedestal and so, I don't feel that turn towards the darkness from LBJ onwards. The general consensus may be that Richard Milhous Nixon was the one to shit in America's bed but, as I believe absolute power corrupts absolutely, I tend to believe the sheets needed changing long before then. It's a stance I think Stone is inclined to acknowledge too as he sets about depicting Nixon's biography as that of a classical tragedy. He never once excuses the man's actions, but he helps to create a character who is deeply flawed and complicated and even, in some instances, can elicit audience sympathy.  

The film is a wonderfully constructed piece, deploying the usual non linear/flashback structure, and creating a White House that is with heavy irony a dark and shadowy place and a seething, bubbling cauldron full of bile, anger, lost and wasted opportunities and blind revenge. A decaying Camelot being dismantled brick by brick from within, it's fascinating to see how the ghosts of the Kennedy's linger and loom large behind Nixon's shoulder.

Anthony Hopkins may be no one's idea of a Nixon look-a-like (who is?!) but it really doesn't matter. He captures the essence of the man as Stone wishes to depict; the loneliness and the loneness inherent in the characterisation is something Hopkins excels in, making the aforementioned bogeyman, this vilified public figure of hate, sympathetic and utterly hapless. It's a stunning performance that is often overlooked when considering the finest work of the Welsh wizard. 

There's no slacking in the supporting cast too with a note perfect Paul Sorvino as Kissinger, Joan Allen, Bob Hoskins, Ed Harris, Larry Hagman, JT Walsh and James Woods in one of my favourite performances.

A deeply absorbing experience, for my money Nixon is one of the finest films of the 1990s.

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