Directed by Oliver Stone
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:11080pAVC codec
Running Time: 212 minutes
Audio: PCM 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 34.99
Release Date: August 19, 2008
Review Date: August 12, 2008
After scoring a great financial success (and loads of controversy) with his award-winning JFK, it made complete sense for Oliver Stone to go to the proverbial political well a second time with one of the most controversial politicians of the 20th century - Richard Milhous Nixon. Nixon is an amalgamation of everything Oliver Stone knows about filmmaking: a striking subject, a tremendous physical production, a collage of filmed history, newsreels, vintage footage, and invented drama, A-list actors giving superb performances, and overkill, overkill, overkill. Far too psychologically complex to be adequately dissected in even a three-plus hour movie, Richard Nixon and his life can only be highlighted in Nixon. It’s a movie that works in fits and starts, has some astonishing moments, and deserves to be seen. It’s not a film, however, that even begins to write the final page on this conflicted mass of human insecurities. Indeed, Nixon only scratches the barest of surfaces. It’s doubtful that anyone will ever know all the inner truths about this troubled and troubling man.
Beginning in 1973 as the turrets of his presidency are beginning to tumble around him while he listens to a series of taped conversations with his closest aides that could end his political career, Richard Nixon (Anthony Hopkins) goes through a series of free association remembrances going back to his childhood in 1925, one of four sons of a severe California Quaker and continuing on to his present troubles after a bungled burglary at the Watergate begins to get traced back to his doorstep. The reminiscences aren’t chronological, and those without a working knowledge of Nixon’s history might have a difficult time putting all of the pieces together. Once the stories finally return to the then-present, the film continues through Nixon’s excruciating ordeal of trying to sidestep the law to keep his secrets hidden leading to his historic 1974 resignation.
Though Stone and his co-screenwriters Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson seem to have hit all of the important highlights and lowlights in Nixon’s career (including scenes detailing his troubled marriage to Pat (Joan Allen) and his rather sterile relationship with his own two daughters echoing his own father’s coldness to him), the script always seems sketchy in depth. Even with a film of this gargantuan length, there seem to be areas in some of the sequences that need more development, more complexity. Stone throws every trick in the film grab bag to keep things informative and interesting, using old newsreels and vintage clips and kinescopes, digitally inserting Anthony Hopkins into real news footage of real leaders like Eisenhower or John Kennedy, and even filming his own newsreel after Nixon‘s 1962 gubernatorial loss to cover Nixon‘s early career as a senator who's after Communists and his erratic eight years as Vice-President, a convenient way to cover a lot of ground in one sequence. But what we eventually end with is the long story of a sad, frightened man, disappointed by the hand life played him in upbringing, looks, education, and popularity being dominated by his own psychoses in turning rivals into hated enemies out to get him and his willingness to do anything to keep them at bay. Stone directs long, talky sequences which have been put back into the finished film in this director's cut (Sam Waterston as CIA head Helms, for example) and uses Abraham Lincoln constantly as both motivator and symbol of Republicanism, but even though the film always feels important and necessary, it also seems always just a bit short of being a complete success.
Anthony Hopkins was probably the best world class actor around who could have played Nixon in 1995, but he never quite gets the speech cadence right. Tremendous efforts have been made to coif and dress him as close to the original as possible, but it always seems like a very calculated performance; we see the wheels turning. Not so with Joan Allen’s Pat Nixon in a powerful performance suggesting that maybe it’s Pat who needs her own film biography. James Woods is his usual dominating presence as Nixon chief aide H.R. Haldeman, and Paul Sorvino’s Henry Kissinger is also a memorable turn. Among the really great supporting performances turned in during the film are Madeline Kahn’s terrific, mouthy Martha Mitchell, David Hyde Pierce’s doe-eyed John Dean, Bob Hoskins as a leathery J. Edgar Hoover, Powers Boothe as quietly commanding Alexander Haig, and Mary Steenburgen as Nixon’s softly demanding mother Hannah. Dozens of other excellent actors complete the supporting cast, all holding up their parts in this intriguing but uniquely tragic story of one man’s ambitious race to the top and his desperate desire to stay there and be liked by any means possible.
The film’s 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Composed of many types of film stock to mirror the many decades covered by the film and Stone's flashy directorial style, the Blu-ray transfer handles most of it very well indeed. Blacks are nice but not the deepest on record though there is plenty of detail to be fathomed in the shadows. Flesh tones are accurate and sharpness is more than adequate but again not exemplary. The film has been divided into 36 chapters.
The uncompressed PCM 5.1 (4.6 Mbps) audio track is certainly a giant step up from the Dolby Digital 5.1 track also included on the disc, but surrounds are sometimes a little overpowering of the dialog, and at other times not used to their fullest extent. The LFE channel gets a better than average workout, particularly during a sequence set at the race track where thundering hooves and an excited crowd dip deeply into the bass recesses.
Writer-director Oliver Stone contributes two audio commentaries for the film. Why these two stop and start commentaries weren’t combined into one fuller, more comprehensive one is as perplexing a mystery as anything in Stone’s film. There is information imparted and opinions offered, many of which are interesting, but the erratic nature of when he chooses to speak makes for two highly frustrating tracks.
Most of the bonus features are contained on the set's second disc.
Beyond Nixon is a new 35 ¼-minute documentary in which several historians, newsmen, actual political figures from the film, and satirist Gore Vidal all comment on Richard Nixon’s career and legacy (and also on Stone's film), both positively and negatively. It’s presented in 1080i.
10 “deleted” scenes are presented on the disc each introduced by director Oliver Stone. Almost all of these scenes have actually been put back into the movie which is now on the Blu-ray disc. Stone also has lengthy opening and closing comments to make in the deleted scene section. These can be watched individually or in one 58 ¼-minute group. They are presented in 480i.
Oliver Stone’s appearance on The Charlie Rose Show publicizing the movie is presented in a 55-minute 480i presentation. Rose and Stone are both erudite enough to make this interview fly by with some fascinating give and take between the two men.
The original theatrical trailer is presented in 480i and runs for 4 ½ minutes.
Not as much a biography as it is a diagnosis of some parts of the infamous 37th President, Nixon is certainly worth seeing in this ultra-complete director’s cut of the movie. Literate filmmaking with excellent performances are the hallmarks of this Oliver Stone creation.
The Blu-ray case contains a $10 rebate certificate for those previous owners of the sDVD version of Nixon who are upgrading to the Blu-ray edition.