1995/2008 – Expanded Version
DIRECTOR: Oliver Stone
May contain spoilers!
When I first watched this film on VHS back in early 1996, I was nothing short of disappointed. Already being a huge fan of Stones work with JFK (1991), Born On The Fourth Of July (1989) and Platoon (1986), I was really looking forward to this Oscar nominated biopic of Richard M. Nixon by a man who was thumbing his nose at not just the American institution, but the corrupt western values in general.
Bear in mind I was just 17 at the time so anything or one who attacked “the man” was appealing. But that is not what we got here. On my first viewing and this is an opinion shared by many who have seen this film of all ages, Nixon is a scrappy, overly long confused melodrama serving those already indoctrinated into U.S. politics. In other words, it is talking to those Americans who either lived through it and paid attention or those involved in politics.
But on later viewings the real film emerges from this mess and it becomes clearer and clearer as you begin to decipher the plot and are able to put the none-linear plot into context. Stone was expected to do a hatchet job on “Tricky Dicky”, a man who is generally considered to be one of the worst and most dangerous Presidents that the U.S. has had in living memory, but instead we get a sort of Greek tragedy, a tale of a tortured soul who in spite of the good work he did, would never received the adoration or respect which he deserved.
This is in contrast to his childish and dangerous drive to blame everybody else for his failings, problems and in the end, crimes. And there were a lot of crimes.
Anthony Hopkins, who interprets the character of Richard Nixon perfectly, never taking him of or turning his performance in to caricature but seeming to capture the essence, domina and tone of the man, allowing Hopkins to act his socks off with the restrictions of impersonation. And Hopkins leads and stellar cast through what is now, as of 2008’s Extended Cut, a 213 minute epic charting Nixon’s rise from his Quaker roots to being forced to resign the highest office in the land.
The Extended Cut is 28 minutes longer than the theatrical version and fills in so many of the gaps and confusing elements of the original version, many of which making that first viewing 19 years ago that much harder. It expands on his policies whilst President, particularly in Cambodia, but adds a few Oliver Stone moments, more inference that Nixon had a vague but proxy role in the assignation of JFK and the added scene with Sam Waterstone’s CIA head, for example.
The latter is a long scene but one which is very subjective and I doubt that there is any real truth in it. And that is a general criticism of the film on the whole. How much of this is true? Well I would say technically, a lot of it is. But how much of it has been presented through the Oliver Stone prism? I would say just as much but is that a problem?
No. This is not a textbook, this is an artist endeavour and one which sheds light one a man and the politics of the time which many of us never witnessed first hand or have been given a chance to revisit. Personally I think that Nixon is a brilliantly crafted film, taking us on a guided tour of the Nixon era, but the tour guide, Stone, is constantly meandering and seemingly wandering off point. But if you can keep up then this is an intriguing portrait of a man who went to great lengths to keep people at arms length. Who knew the real Richard Nixon? Not many by all accounts.