Rated: R for language. Reviewed by: Frank Release date: December 22, 1995 Released by: Hollywood Pictures
Director Oliver Stone suffers from the same problem that Richard Nixon struggled with - they each know how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Stone has directed a brilliant, gripping and fascinating film but he fills it with such distortions he renders what could have been a great work of fiction invalid.
Nixon destroyed respect for the presidency and made it acceptable for the press to pry into every aspect of a President's life. His lonely driven life was a supreme example of overachieving. His destruction was guided by the same qualities which gave him success. Nixon, who referred to himself as Nixon (as if he were not him), was driven to succeed personally. Great Presidents are driven to succeed because of their vision for the country and the world.
The film begins with a night scene of the White House with dark storm clouds and lightning overhead. It looks more like a medieval castle than a modern house of government. The sets used were also used for The American President, but here they are dimly lit and look almost frightening as opposed to the brightly lit halls in The American President. The contrast between the happy enjoyable presidency of the fictional Andrew Shepard make Nixon even more dreary.
Nixon, as played by Anthony Hopkins, is tragedy like Othello or Macbeth. It is filled with symbolism. When at he Watergate plot is hatched by the inner circle, Air Force One suddenly hit an air pocket and they all jumble and hold on. In Stone's mind that was the warning that their plot would ring down the President.
When Nixon's daughter Julie hugs her father and says, "You're the most decent man I have ever known," she is right. He has done well in his presidency. China is open, the cities are beginning to rebound and he has a plan for economic equality for every American. What is missing is his ability to enjoy his success. After losing the 1960 election to John F. Kennedy, he says to his wife, "I'm a failure." Having risen to vice president of the United States wasn't enough. That attitude brought him down. In the 1972 election he was a sure winner but he wanted a massive victory. To get it, he destroyed all he had.
The final days are prolonged and rambling as is Nixon's final speech before the White House staff. It is not all true, but the symbolism is true enough. This is a powerful drama which could easily have been about a fictional president in a mythological country, about a leader who could not see the forest through the trees.
Stone has directed a compelling, fascinating, beautifully acted film. It may be better than Platoon, but he suffers from the same fate as Nixon in that he has become the topic of discussion, not his work.It destroyed President Nixon and it may destroy the ability of this film to succeed.