No surprise: 'Nixon' a mess

By Noah Lopez
Arizona Daily Wildcat
January 18, 1996

With his late 1995 effort "Nixon," one can simply say that Oliver Stone is doing it again.

That's not really a good thing, based on Stone's track record.

And what's left to say about Oliver Stone's work that he didn't say for himself with the release of 1994's "Natural Born Killers"?

With that "essay" on "ultraviolence," Stone seemed ready to demonstrate how far his overbearing style could go. You either loved that movie for its crazy alternative bent- the Trent Reznor produced soundtrack, the post-apocalyptic clothing, the earrings, Juliette Lewis, etc.- or you saw through its superficial posturing and MTV "inspired" schizophrenic camera style.

The promise that the Hollywood screenwriter-turned-director showed in his early work (early as in "Salvador" and "Platoon" but not as early as, say, "The Hand") was largely diminished by the time he made the second part in his "Sixties Trilogy," "Born On the Fourth of July," and from there Stone seemed willing to tread water with a handful of historical dramas that managed to unify themselves with their similar misguided interpretations of American history.

With his visual "reinvention" in "Natural Born Killers," Stone seemed ready to try a new direction. Maybe Stone was getting ready to make message films. Or, maybe he was going to try his hand with exploitation flicks. Either way, Stone showed that he was still capable of making a really bad movie.

Stone continues this tradition with "Nixon," merging the chaotic editing and camera work of "NBK" with the poorly constructed historical flair he brought to "The Doors" or "JFK." Like the former, "Nixon" rarely settles on a medium to tell its nearly four- hour tale. Grainy black and white. Cheap 8 MM. Video. Color 35 MM film. Black 35 MM. There's no thread that binds which medium films what scenes. Instead, Stone offers a Brakhagian experimental mish mosh that would seem to leave his intended audience conf used. And like the latter, Stone only has a few points that he really wants to make, and revisits them tediously for over three hours. Tiring on their own, these two qualities are genuinely annoying when combined.

As with "JFK," the points that Stone chooses to make with "Nixon" are rather obvious to people with even a general knowledge of the history being outlined. Nixon was bitterly jealous of the Kennedy clan in nearly every capacity. Nixon may have known about the Watergate break-in, but regardless of what he knew, he tried to cover it up. Towards the end of his presidency, Nixon drank a lot. These points are hammered home again and again. For the last hour of the film, Stone's Nixon drinks enough that Red Ske lton might have been as appropriate enough of a casting decision as Anthony Hopkins proves to be.

Stone also enunciates his minor points in annoyingly obvious fashion as well. At a dinner meeting with his advisors about the secret bombings of Cambodia, Nixon is served a steak raw enough to ooze blood. The steak is shown oozing blood. Nixon gets angry about the bloody mess on his plate. How ironic.

Stone manages to stumble with the easier historic material as well. The film spends over an hour on the Nixon's Watergate disaster, but seems to assume that the viewer's have seen "All the President's Men," leaving names vague, and filling in historical b lanks (Stone manages to recreate what was on the magical eighteen minutes of snipped tape) with awkward abandon. One never feels as though "Nixon" is a defining portrait of history.

As messy as the overlong, overbearing film is, the acting never falters. Hopkins delivers a moderate performance as the President, overacting at times, at times forgetting his drawling accent, but it's the supporting cast who truly shines here. Woods, Wal sh, Harris and Sorvino are amazing as the President's men, but those actors have built their careers on scene stealing performances.

The real problem with "Nixon," however, is that it has made money, no doubt continuing Hollywood's faith in such a poor big name director.