Once Oliver Stone finished Natural Born Killers he returned to the political bio-pic genre with the release of Nixon. Highlight by a fantastic Oscar nominated performance from Sir Anthony Hopkins, the film may not have been as controversial as his better known JFK, made a few years earlier in 1991, but it's certainly no less effective or moving.
While the movie follows Richard Nixon into the presidency the focus is obviously on the Watergate Scandal during which Nixon resigned from office in order to avoid an inevitable impeachment. The movie also pays close attention to the relationship that Nixon had with his wife, Patricia (played incredibly well by Joan Allen, also nominated for an Oscar for her turn in this film). We witness Nixon meeting with Texas oil money and with J. Edgar Hoover (Bob Hoskins in a fantastic supporting role) as it all leads up to the hearings, with some strange behavior courtesy of Henry Kissinger (Paul Sorvino, also excellent in his role) to keep things interesting.
Even with certain minor liberties taken with the script and even at a mammoth two hundred and twelve minutes in length, Nixon is so wonderfully acted by all involved and structured in such an interesting way (with some obvious nods to Citizen Kane for those who pay attention) that the time passes by far faster than one would expect it to. Stone does a good job of portraying the overall 'strangeness' of the situations that occurred while Nixon was in power and although we have a lot of sympathy for him, he doesn't necessarily paint the President as an innocent man - merely one who is, like the rest of us, human and prone to error.
John Williams' score provides some added emotional depth to the picture without overpowering any of the performances. This is a more subtle score than we might be used to from the composer, but it's no less effective than some of his better known work and in fact the less bombastic nature of the music in this film suits the material far better than a more heavily orchestrated piece probably would have. It's easy to overlook the effectiveness of Williams' work here when the film is full of so many great performances but it is a key part of what makes this picture so good.
Oliver Stones' direction is solid throughout and he manages to deliver a picture that maintains its focus for the duration. With such a lengthy running time and such a controversial subject it would have been easy for Stone to let the picture runaway with itself but here he keeps things moving at a solid pace and on a very definite track. The editing of the picture is in tune with this, and the picture never feels like its overstaying its welcome in part because of the riveting subject matter but also because of the expert cinematography and craft employed behind the camera.
The cast for the film is uniformly excellent across the board. As mentioned, Hopkins is excellent in the lead. While there are a couple of scenes where he doesn't quite have the vocal inflections down perfectly, he is otherwise a great choice to play such a unique looking and sounding historical figure and he brings a very human element to his role that makes it much more effective than it could have been. His performance is subtle and understated and all the better for it. Hopkins steals the show in the lead but the supporting cast is really just as good. Performances from Joan Allen, Bob Hoskins, Powers Boothe, Ed Harris, Paul Sorvino, James Woods and quite a few others all compliment Hopkins' poignant and composed turn which was completely deserving of its 1996 Oscar nomination. The picture also received Oscar nominations for Joan Allen's supporting performance, John William's score, and for its screenplay.
This director's cut of Nixon contained on this release runs approximately twenty minutes longer than the theatrical release of the film and features many extended scenes and slightly different takes than those used in the theatrical version of the movie.
The 1080p AVC encoded 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen that presents the film in a manner closely approximating its theatrical presentation. To explain, if you've seen Nixon before you'll probably remember that the movie switches from a very clean, clear film stock to a grainier and grittier looking film stock from time to time so you'll need to keep this in mind when one shot looks nice and clear and the next looks grainy and dirty. In terms of the transfer itself, Nixon looks pretty decent in high-definition and unlike the Buena Vista release of Gangs Of New York the picture has (thankfully) not been slathered with DVN and edge enhancement. Color reproduction looks nice and natural as do skin tones while black levels stay pretty strong throughout the film. Detail levels are nice and you'll really notice the added resolution during close-ups, that said, shots from further away also look nice and show added texture as well. All in all, quite a nice effort in the video department on this release.
Audio options are provided in an English language uncompressed PCM 5.1 track and an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track with optional subtitles provided in English SDH, French and Spanish. The subtle and dialogue driven sound mix crafted for this film sounds quite nice on this Blu-ray release. John Williams' score has some nice depth to it while the performers all come through nice and clear even during the scenes where dialogue is hushed or whispered. Bass response seems to be balanced well with the rest of the mix in that it's there and you'll notice it but it won't over power anything (nor should it). Ambient and background noise adds some welcome rear channel activity to a few key scenes and the depth of the track is, at times, quite impressive indeed.
The extras for this release are spread across the two discs in the set. The first disc contains two audio commentaries from director Oliver Stone, carried over from the standard definition special edition release. Say what you will about Stone and his politics but the guy knows how to deliver an interesting commentary track (or in this case, two interesting commentary tracks). Throughout the two discussions he explains why he wanted to make this film as well as his own personal thoughts about Nixon as a president, a historical figure, and as a person (he even comments on his drinking habits and how he wanted to portray them in the film). Stone also does a good job of covering some of the filmmaking techniques that he used in the film and in covering the essentials such as casting, cinematography and sets/locations (interesting to note that the first shot of the White House was done with a matte). He also talks about the origins of the film, why he wanted to make it, and why he took the positions that he did with the material at hand. Stone notes that this is perhaps his most structured picture and he explains why he feels that way. There are a few gaps here and there throughout both tracks (you'll notice a big one less than five minutes into the first track) and these probably could have been edited down into one really solid track rather than the two more meandering ones that we have here. Regardless, fans of Stone's films will no doubt enjoy these two commentaries, the second of which is considerably more political in tone as it touches on Nixon's thoughts on Kennedy's time in the office, the subsequent effects of that presidency and how it related to Nixon's own time in the Oval Office.
Rounding out the supplements on the first disc are animated menus, chapter selection, and a trio of unrelated trailers (a Blu-ray promo, Blindness, and Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas).
Disc two starts off with a documentary entitled Beyond Nixon (35:18) which was directed by Oliver Stone's son, Sean Stone, and which is exclusive to this new Blu-ray release. Presented in 1080i HD, this documentary does an interesting job of dissecting Oliver Stone's take on one of America's most controversial presidents by way of expert interviews and comments from Stone himself. Along for the ride are writers and historians like Gore Vidal Professor Peter Kuznick, and Robert Novak as well as periodic input from Nixon's real life speech writer, Richard Whalen and Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman who sat on the committee that impeached Nixon. This interesting mix of interviewees gives some interesting observational commentary about Stone's film and his take on Nixon's legacy, and it provides plenty of interesting food for thought as it pertains specifically to the film rather than to its historical accuracy.
The rest of the extras on the second disc have been carried over from the last standard definition special edition release and are presented in SD. The Charlie Rose Interview With Oliver Stone (55:09) remains an interesting watch. Rose isn't afraid to ask difficult questions of Stone, and it makes for some fascinating discussion as both interviewer and interviewee are obviously quite intelligent and politically minded. Rounding out the extra features is the same batch of deleted scenes (roughly fifty-nine minutes worth) that we saw on the last release, once again available with an introduction from Oliver Stone explaining why they were taken out of the theatrical cut of the film. The film's original theatrical trailer is also included.
Buena Vista has done a great job with their Blu-ray release of Nixon. The film looks and sounds great and if carrying over the supplements from the standard definition special edition weren't enough, we're treated to an excellent new, exclusive featurette that sheds further light on the film and its subject. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.