Nixon

on December 22, 1995 by Joseph McBride
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As politically daring as his "JFK," only more covertly so, Oliver Stone's "Nixon" is a large, Brueghel-like canvas of the political landscape of post-WWII America. Anthony Hopkins's audaciously theatrical, profoundly moving portrait of Richard Nixon richly deserves the adjective "Shakespearean," for Stone and the Welsh actor convincingly portray Nixon as a tortured, vindictive, endlessly complex man of great gifts fighting a tragic struggle with his own inner demons. Some will find this revisionist film biography overly sympathetic to a petty, dishonest politician, but audiences with a longer view of history will see it as a compelling illumination of a man who exemplified the dark side of the American Dream.
   Working from a carefully researched screenplay he wrote with Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson, Stone depicts America's 37th president as hopelessly bound to serve the corrupt interests of those who helped him achieve power. Drawing on Nixon aide H.R. Hal-deman's 1978 memoir "The Ends of Power," the Cinergi/Hollywood Pictures production suggests that Nixon's unraveling in the Watergate coverup resulted from his desperate attempts to obscure his guilty knowledge of events that led to the murder of John F. Kennedy. The details are presented more obliquely here than in Stone's previous film on that subject, but with a more ambitious attempt to synthesize the assassination into its overall historical context.
   The expressionistic visual style of "Nixon" draws liberally from the iconography of the horror film, with Stone and his virtuoso cinematographer Robert Richardson portraying the White House as a haunted castle and Hopkins as a political Doctor Frankenstein, his inner grotesqueries plainly visible on his features for all the world to see. Stone's approach initially might be jarring, but it comes to seem perfectly appropriate for his view of modern American history as a Pandora's box of unspeakable horrors. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Joan Allen, James Woods, Mary Steenburgen and Paul Sorvino. Directed by Oliver Stone. Written by Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson and Oliver Stone. Produced by Clayton Townsend, Oliver Stone and Andrew G. Vajna. A Buena Vista release. Drama. Rated R for language. Running time: 190 min.
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