DVD Review: NIXON
[My movie review of Oliver Stone’s Nixon, first published in the
“Stone’s films are good entertainment,” my friend the radio personality said over Christmas dinner. “But they’re lousy history.” This is the typical knee-jerk reaction of Establishment Liberals to Oliver Stone. They don’t blink at blatant falsehoods found in State-sanctioned histories, but they’re quick to shout down any historical revisionism or speculation offered by an Oliver Stone. So Janet Maslin of The New York Times writes about the “historical quicksand” of Stone’s 1991 film, JFK. And she finds Nixon, his latest movie, “reckless, bullying and naggingly unreliable.”
Nonsense. Nixon takes some dramatic license; it admits that in its opening credits. But it’s largely factual, as the recent publication of its thoroughly annotated screenplay proves. Nixon is, in fact, an extraordinary film. It’s no simple character assassination of Richard Nixon. Rather, it’s a well-honed attack on the Imperial Presidency itself — a brilliant analysis of the very workings of government and the State’s inevitable destructiveness.
In a wonderful scene — one well-documented as having occurred but with which Stone takes obvious liberties — the president, portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, meets at pre-dawn with Vietnam war protesters camped at the Lincoln Memorial. There, in the shadows cast by the enormous monument, a confrontive young woman tells Nixon, “You can’t stop the war, can you? Even if you wanted to. Because it’s not you. It’s the system. And the system won’t let you stop it...”
“There’s a lot more at stake here than what you want,” Nixon replies. “Or even what I want...”
“Then what’s the point?” the woman presses. “What’s the point of being president? You’re powerless.”
“No, no,” he says, flustered. “I’m not powerless. Because...because I understand the system. I believe I can control it. Maybe not control it totally. But tame it enough to make it do some good.”
“It sounds like you’re talking about a wild animal.”
“Maybe I am,” the president admits.
Minutes later, Nixon is escorted to his limousine by Secret Service men. He turns to Bob Haldeman, played by James Woods. “She got it, Bob,” Nixon says. “A nineteen-year-old college kid. She understands something it’s taken me 25 years in politics to understand. The CIA, the Mafia, the Wall Street bastards...”
“...The Beast. A nineteen-year-old kid. She understands the nature of The Beast.”
That’s the power of Nixon.
If this movie has any fault, it is its re-emphasis of the tired myth that a “watchdog” press brought Nixon down. What really brought Nixon down were counter-powers within The Beast itself. Nixon wasn’t working out. He had to be removed. Stone understands many of The Beast’s inner-workings, but Nixon doesn’t quite follow through with what should be natural conclusions. See it, regardless.