Sunday, November 21, 2010

[DVD] Nixon (1995)

Holding Court

I was but a teen who set enthralled by everything that went on screen with all the controversies and conspiracies thrown into Oliver Stone's JFK, and again I sit in awe as he takes creative license on the life and times of Richard Nixon, based on open source and in some case incomplete records of course, from how his family background shaped his young life, before following his political career through its ups and downs, from his failed presidential election to victory that led him to the White House, until the Watergate scandal that brought him down.

The last film about Nixon I had watched was Frost/Nixon, and that takes place way after his resignation, so if your interest has been piqued by that film, I'd recommend that you'd give Oliver Stone's Nixon a go as well, knowing well that the director has always been pointed in his films, and is full of opinion when recreating the world he wants to talk about. I haven't got to W. yet, but am definitely going to do so soon if that film is anything like Nixon, and besides I do enjoy movies about politicians and an historical epic, with dramatic license always taken of course because you just cannot condense everything into a 2, 3 or even a 4 hour film.

Running close to 3.5 hours, Nixon begins at a point which is probably defining the end of his presidential term, and that's the Watergate break-in, before we see Anthony Hopkins' brilliant portrayal of a man who seems to perpetually find himself, or prefers to find himself forced in a corner, and want to come out fighting when the chips are down, who find it his destiny to, as he puts it, give history a nudge. It's not easy to tackle a central figure when there has been tons of material about the character or perception of the character/figure, and there will always be counter-arguments from various quarters who deem the character portrayal inaccurate.

For the uninitiated, I felt it contained enough to tickle your interest to read up a lot more about the era, which is filled by the agendas of agencies such as the CIA and FBI, still under J Edgar Hoover (Bob Hoskins), and the tremendous power play from behind the scenes. It's an era of the Vietnam War, of Cuba, of the loss of American innocence with the death of JFK, flower power, student protests, the ping pong diplomacy with China and the Soviet enemy, and the list goes on, with problems faced both domestically, and from a shaky foreign policy making strange bedfellows amongst the players involved, slimy characters abound.

And of course with the film dedicated to Stone's father, many have been quick to point out some parallels between Nixon and Stone, that the Nixon here is simply Stone voicing his contempt of the System in the USA. But I'd rather go with opinionated, and the fascination of the man and the era, with the typical Stone commentary worked into the story and the protagonist, who surely doesn't mince his words given his free use of expletives and free discussions even though he has put in place recordings in the Oval Office, which will ultimately contribute to his downfall, what with the lies and the scapegoats made of situations, where allies can be buried if they are deemed sacrificial to the cause.

The narrative also goes adopts different styles in presentation, from black and white flashbacks, news reels, archival footage, some manipulated through CG as what Forrest Gump had done to put the actor against an historical backdrop, or just plain old superimposition. Deleted scenes also found its way into the feature film (this being the Director's Cut) and you can tell this apart from the rest from the lack of finished quality, such as Nixon's visit to the CIA and intense conversation with CIA Director Richard Helms (Sam Waterston) which was one of the best scenes in the film, a face off between two evils if you will, going through an oral chess game where one tries to overpower the other, trying to gain an upper hand and a psychological advantage in their poker mind game.

Peppered with wonderful actors like Joan Allen as Pat Nixon the estranged wife to her husband's insatiable political ambition, Ed Harris, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Sorvino as Henry Kissinger, James Woods and even cameos like Bai Ling (in what was a very conservative appearance as Mao's interpreter), the film ultimately belonged to Anthony Hopkins in his portrayal, transforming himself into Nixon and disappearing into the character, highlighting his constant inferiority complex stemming from his modest background going up against the Ivy Leaguers in the country, and his struggles for mass acceptance by the people he is leading, made complicated by his inherent need to keep secrets and lie.

It's a fascinating film about the character, which kept true to certain details like his lack of television PR skills and his incessant sweat issues under bright lights (which Frost/Nixon also made mention with his upper lip almost always covered in a sweaty grime). It may not be the definitive biopic of Richard Nixon, but I suppose it'll be quite the tall order to try and top this effort by Oliver Stone. Recommended.

The Region 1 Collector's Edition by Hollywood Pictures Home Video is unfortunately presented in letterbox format - I had hoped for an anamorphic widescreen presentation - but for its length and the inclusion of two separate commentaries by Oliver Stone, which frankly could have been combined because there were gaps of silence throughout the commentaries and perhaps would be a better flow if combined, which contained plenty of Stone's approach to making the film, and history as told from his point of view as a filmmaker with plenty of valuable insights. Audio is available in English Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1 Surround, with English closed captioning and Subtitles in French and Spanish. Scene selection is available over 37 chapters.

Disc 2 is the special features disc, which features the following extras:

Deleted Scenes with Audio Commentary by Oliver Stone contains 10 deleted and expanded scenes from the film, and this section gets introduced and closed by the director. Running a total of 58:32, there's a play all function as well so that you can sit through everything in one sitting, where Stone takes time to explain why some were omitted or shortened, otherwise we would probably be faced with the four hour fifteen minute version.

Featurette (4:58) is the summarized version of what can be the making of documentary, but in under five minutes all we get are a few clips behind the scenes with quick sound bites from cast and director. Charlie Rose Interviews Oliver Stone (55:10) is the television interview that has Stone go into depth discussing the film and the life of Richard Nixon covering portions not in the film, and the disc rounds off with a pretty lengthy Theatrical Trailer (4:30).

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