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DVD SAVANT

Nixon
Election Year Edition Extended Director's Cut
Savant Blu-ray Review


Nixon
Holywood Pictures Home Entertainment
1995 / Color / 2:40 widescreen / 213 min. / Blu-ray / Street Date August 19, 2008 /
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Joan Allen, Powers Boothe, Ed Harris, Bob Hoskins, E.G. Marshall, David Paymer, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Sorvino, Mary Steenburgen, J.T. Walsh, James Woods, Brian Bedford, Kevin Dunn, Annabeth Gish, Larry Hagman, Edward Herrmann, Madeline Kahn, Dan Hedaya, Tony Lo Bianco
Cinematography
Robert Richardson
Production Design Victor Kempster
Film Editor Brian Berdan, Hank Corwin
Original Music John Williams
Written by Oliver Stone, Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson
Produced by Oliver Stone, Clayton Townsend, Andrew G. Vajna
Directed by Oliver Stone

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Oliver Stone made such a splash in his J.F.K as the grandmaster of conspiracy docudrama that the impact of his far superior 1995 Nixon was somewhat muted. Stone's Kennedy assassination movie presented speculation and opinion in such a dramatic fashion that conservatives were rightly outraged. The often-wild extrapolations took as a starting point a massive hidden conspiracy, very little of which can be nailed down as fact. If anything, the hysterical J.F.K. only added to the general cultural confusion.

Nixon invents plenty of detail but the biographical framework is factual and the movie is actually sympathetic to its celebrity subject. Richard Nixon was a political monster and all-round strange man, but he was still recognizably human. Emile de Antonio's Millhouse is still the most concise record of his villainous career, but it ends in the middle of the Vietnam War, before Watergate. Robert Altman's Secret Honor now seems sour and mean spirited, but the drunken and vindictive Nixon pictured therein is a historical reality as well.

The disc's self-declared "Election Year Edition" does its best to connect the film with the current battle between Republicans and Democrats. One might think that the obviously liberal Stone would like to add fuel to the Democratic cause, but his movie shows American politics to be a hopeless cynical cesspool. After watching it viewers may be more likely to think their vote means won't make a difference.

This reviewer never saw Nixon theatrically and was somewhat intimidated by the near- Gone With the Wind running time of this Director's cut. It's half an hour longer but doesn't drag for a moment.

Stone employs a less frenetic version of the crazy cutting he employed in his violence freak-out Natural Born Killers, mixing associative cuts between B&W & color and film & video. Flashbacks to Nixon's childhood give us the whole story of a harsh life under a stern father and a cruelly unforgiving Quaker mother (Mary Steenburgen) on a citrus farm and running a gas station. Both of his brothers died young. Richard learned quickly that opportunity was fleeting and every step on the road to success requires an iron will to succeed. We see him accepting humiliations at a young age, including serving as a chauffeur for the dates of a girl he himself admired, Pat.

The most astonishing achievement of Nixon is its casting. Anthony Hopkins looks nothing like Tricky Dick at any stage of his life, and his performance is a pure case of transformational acting. We soon accept Hopkins as sort of a Nixon surrogate, and by the end there are moments when the two men seem to blur together in the mind. This especially happens when Hopkins scrunches up his shoulders to laugh ... he "becomes" Nixon in a way that a look-alike never could. It's a worthy case for study.

Joan Allen (Pleasantville) is more sympathetic and animated than the Pat Nixon we see in news footage; during the real Checkers speech the real Pat mostly sat smiling like a petrified wax dummy. Her whole life seems to be one kind of gilded humiliation after another, just being married to this terminally unlikable man.

Top character talent brings a long list of well-known public figures to life. James Woods (as H.R. Haldeman) and J.T. Walsh (as John Erlichman) are Nixon's top axe-men during the Watergate years; the rest of the President's keepers include impressive turns from Powers Boothe (Alexander Haig), Bob Hoskins (an odd J. Edgar Hoover), E.G. Marshall (John Mitchell), Madeline Kahn (Martha Mitchell), David Paymer (press officer Ron Ziegler), David Hyde Pierce (John Dean), and Paul Sorvino (fairly amazing as Henry Kissinger). The list goes much further, with Brian Bedford, Kevin Dunn, Edward Herrmann, Dan Hedaya, Ed Harris, Tony Lo Bianco, Saul Rubinek, Robert Beltran and George Plimpton each making an impact.

Stone's overall theme is that Nixon was doomed by his own character. He used Red Scare tactics and early Television savvy to claw his way to the top, only to be stymied by the stylish charm of John Kennedy. His paranoid hatred of his political opponents knew no bounds. When Nixon suddenly found himself at the top, he distrusted everyone around him, especially the voting public. He squandered a reasonably popular presidency by dividing the nation on Vietnam, practically declaring war on war protesters and using CIA-Cuban dirty tricksters from the Eisenhower years in illegal efforts to 'nail' Democrats and liberals on his enemies list. By the time of Watergate he was completely out of control, incapable of having an honest conversation, even with his long-suffering wife Pat.

Stone alludes to his extremist J.F.K. theories. Nixon consults with but rejects the support of a nefarious group of "Evil Texans" headed by one Jack Jones (Larry Hagman); at one point someone says that Kennedy's killing was a weird plan to kill Fidel Castro that backfired. We hear enough invented conversations about key political moments to turn an average historian bright blue. Docudramas can illuminate truths behind the published facts, but we still get the notion that Stone is feeding us his personal pet theories and calling them gospel. This may be the modern version of myths like Nero fiddling while Rome burned or Washington chopping down the cherry tree. Will 22nd-Century Americans think that John Rambo won the Vietnam War, and intrepid U.S. intelligence agents like Keifer Sutherland foiled diabolical terror plots on a daily basis?

Nixon is supremely well written, directed and acted. We only wish it had an intermission, and perhaps a commentary by dueling historians debating the merits of Stone's dramatic choices.

Hollywood Pictures Home Entertainment's Blu-ray of Nixon is a sharply encoded show. The added resolution and solid colors make Victor Kempster's impressive sets pop to life, and John William's score comes through well on the uncompressed DD 5.1 track. A trailer is included but the bulk of the extras are the Oliver Stone Show all the way. The director gives us two entire commentaries (seven hours' worth!), commentary on deleted scenes and an excerpt from the Charlie Rose Show that allows Stone to hold forth on his important film. We can only wonder what he will do with his upcoming George W. Bush movie .... will it be the liberal backfire boondoggle that helps hand the election to the Republicans, like Fahrenheit 911 did four years ago?


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Nixon rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Beyond Nixon docu; deleted scenes, Charlier Rose interviews Oliver Stone, 2 Stone commentaries, Original Trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 13, 2008



DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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