At the end of his tortured farewell speech, he stands naked before the nation, fake to the end, riveting in his transparency.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"Nixon" is the best and worst of Oliver Stone. If it is an interesting chronicle of America's cardinal political scandal, it still smacks of a researcher so proud of his work that he can't bear to leave anything out. It's too damned long.

From his White House bunker, Nixon tries to snuff out the Watergate brush fire by jettisoning his advisors in ascending order of importance. First, the break-in team: Hunt, Liddy, McCord, Martinez, Sturgis; next, White House staffers Erlichman, Haldeman, and Dean; then friend and attorney-general John Mitchell.

At the end, he is surrounded by players from the bench: the inept Ron Ziegler, the ambitious Al Haig, and the infamous Henry Kissinger, who can barely contain his glee at the possibility of being the hero who saves the country from a sick man. In the "Deep Throat" guessing game, it's worth noting that Kissinger is the one figure who needed two decades of secrecy in order to continue his career as international power broker.

The facts of Watergate were proven long ago and confirmed repeatedly by the testimony of the participants, leaving little for Oliver Stone to posit or prove. A sitting president committed at least 39 felonies, orchestrated a cover-up, lied profoundly, and taped himself in the act. When the Supreme Court ruled 8-0 that the president could not use executive privilege in a criminal case, the game was over.

Reaching for a purpose for his film, Stone decides to explore and explain Richard Nixon. He paints his portraits in the emotional, questionable brush strokes of psychohistory. Did Nixon really fuel himself with scotch? Was his Quaker mother so devout that she defused all human emotion by hiding behind the cloak of her faith? Is it fair to hypothesize about the intimacy of the Nixon bedroom?

Stone tells us that the slights and snubs of childhood produced the paranoid star of the Watergate tapes. In the final hour, he hammers his point home by cutting his camera wildly through Nixon's visions in flailing excess that threatens to overwhelm the stark truth. This is melodrama where none is needed.

Anthony Hopkins, with his head seeming to grow from somewhere in his chest, catches the awkward stance and tension that informed Nixon's behavior. He has captured perfectly the sudden smile that burst from a dark scowl under pressure. Supported all the way by a strong cast, Hopkins turns in a performance that is an uncanny suggestion of Nixon's core.

As Nixon's wife, Joan Allen is every bit as enigmatic as the real Pat Nixon. She conveys beautifully the sense of the claustrophobic prison that surrounds her. The actress's compassion for Mrs. Nixon is palpable.

The drama of peeling away the layers of guilt until Nixon stands exposed needs no embellishment. At the end of his tortured farewell speech, he stands naked before the nation, fake to the end, riveting in his transparency. This is one story that did not need Oliver Stone.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 498
Studio : Hollywood Pictures
Rating : R
Running Time: 3h10m

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