Nixon (1995)

 

 

Director:  Oliver Stone.

Starring:  Anthony Hopkins (Richard Nixon),  Joan Allen (wife Pat Nixon),  Powers Boothe (Alexander Haig),  Ed Harris (E. Howard Hunt),  Bob Hoskins (J. Edgar Hoover),  E.G. Marshall (John Mitchell),  David Paymer (Ron Ziegler), David Hyde Pierce (John Dean), Paul Sorvino (Henry Kissinger),  Mary Steenburgen (Hannah Nixon), J.T. Walsh (John Ehrlichman),  James Woods (H.R. Haldeman), Brian Bedford (Clyde Tolson), Kevin Dunn (Charles Colson),  Fyvush Finkel (Murray Chotiner).

This is a biopic but one accomplished through a series of flashbacks.  

 

 

Stone sees Nixon as a tragic figure in the Shakespearean sense. He was a man with a certain nobility because of his accomplishments, but was flawed by his own paranoia  -- a paranoia that would bring his resignation as the president of the United States.

The film covers such important clues to Nixon's character as his strict Quaker upbringing, his difficult and self-effacing courtship of his wife Pat, his use of underhanded and dirty campaign techniques in his victory over fellow candidate Helen Gahagan Douglas and even his shameless use of his family and dog to save his political hide in the famous Checkers speech.

Nixon loses the 1960 political election to a man he both hated and envied and with whom he was obsessed, John F. Kennedy, followed up by his loss of the 1962 California gubernatorial race.  Just where other men might be finished with politics, he starts his rise from the ashes to the highest office in the United States.  

Of course, his rise is more easily explained when one realizes the backlash political atmosphere of the 1968 campaign for the presidency caused by racial unrest, anti-Vietnam War protests and mayhem at the Democratic National Convention that left the Democrats horribly split.  

Nixon wins reelection in 1972, only to self-destruct with the Watergate Scandal.

 

Damn good movie.  I lived through the Nixon presidency and was no fan of the man, although my views were tempered by my intellectual rejection of the New Left.  I was in no hurry to watch this movie about those painful years of backlash, but once I started I found myself entranced.  And I learned a few things too.  Very interesting was the suffering inflicted by Nixon on his wife Pat and his girls.  Pat would beg him to pay more attention to the family and be a better husband and father and not to virtually ignore them.  Whereas, Nixon really needed his wife emotionally in his early years, he grew more distant from her as he rose in power.  And during Watergate, he was just downright cruel to her.  I felt very bad for his wife. 

I also learned that Nixon and his staff identified Henry Kissinger as the source of many of the leaks that so bugged Nixon and his boys. 

In addition, I enjoyed seeing the familial history of Nixon.  It was so interesting when Nixon said it is funny how death can pave the way for one's success.  He had  two brothers, one younger and one older, who both died of tuberculosis.  Nixon took these deaths hard and the suffering of his brothers haunted him for the rest of his life.  The death of the brothers, however, gave the family enough resources to allow Nixon to attend law school.  The other two deaths that helped Nixon become president were the assassinations of President Kennedy and his brother, the 1968 presidential candidate Bobby. 

Nixon loved and respected his father, but loved his mother with an unusual passion.  He often referred to her as a saint and wanted to achieve great things because she expected it of him and because he felt he had to make up for the loss of her two sons by being a huge success. 

Still another insight was how convinced Nixon was that so many people really viscerally hated him.  He was obsessed and tortured by this thought and it is repeated many times in the movie.  He was a man who was so driven, obsessed and paranoid that he actually self-destructed. 

It was also good to be reminded just how much the White House was out of control.  Nixon was accused of obstructing justice 36 times.  Wow!  The long list of his and his staff's violations of the law was very impressive.   He was subverting the system that is supposed to guarantee our freedom from oppressive government.  He had to go!

The movie was also a good review for me of the events of those years I lived through. 

Anthony Hopkins as Richard Nixon and Joan Allen as Pat Nixon were both terrific.  Some of those dark close-ups of "Nixon's" face were haunting.  It's as if you could see the evil in the man as he sank farther and farther into the mire of his paranoia. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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