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WARNER

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Oliver Stone
Cast:
Anthony Hopkins, Joan Allen, Powers Boothe, Bob Hoskins, Ed Harris, E.G. Marshall, David Paymer, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Sorvino, Mary Steenburgen, J.T. Walsh, James Woods
Writing Credits:
Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson, Oliver Stone

Tagline:
He had greatness within his grasp.

Synopsis:
From Oscar®-winning director Oliver Stone and starring Anthony Hopkins in an Oscar® nominated performance, Nixon is the monumental motion picture that delves into the inner sanctum of a tragic world leader, uncovering his greatest moments and his shattering demise! An all-star cast powers this epic look at American President Richard M. Nixon a man carrying both fate of the world on his shoulders while battling the self-destructive demands within. From his victorious presidential election to the shocking Watergate scandal that would seal his doom, Nixon was hailed by critics and audiences everywhere as a great film one you don t want to miss!

Box Office:
Budget
$50 million.
Domestic Gross
$13.560 million.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.40:1
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English

Runtime: 212 min.
Price: $63.95
Release Date: 1/16/2001

Bonus:
• Two Audio Commentaries with Director Oliver Stone
• 11 Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
• Interview with Charlie Rose
• Featurette
• Trailer

Available only as part of the Oliver Stone Collection 10-Pack.

PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Nixon: Special Edition - Oliver Stone Collection Box Set (1995)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 18, 2008)

When Oliver Stone indicated that he planned to make a biopic about Richard Nixon, most folks assumed it would be little more than a vicious hatchet job on the much maligned former president. After all, Stone’s liberal tendencies had long been evident, and it seemed extremely unlikely that he’d show anything other than contempt for “Tricky Dick”.

However, the truth was quite different. While 1995’s Nixon won’t be mistaken for a hagiography of the man, it seemed much more fair and even-handed than anyone had the right to expect. Ultimately, Stone created what actually came across as a somewhat sentimental and caring portrait of a very flawed public official.

As a biopic, Nixon seemed very differently constructed than The Doors, Stone’s disappointing look at the rock band. The latter followed a fairly standard path; Stone attempted to spice up the usual “rise and fall” music story with some mystical elements and other approaches but I thought the result failed due to the ultimately conventional nature of the tale; Stone’s creative approach simply rendered the results incoherent.

Although Nixon uses a much less linear storytelling technique, it actually appears a great deal more clear and intelligible. The movie starts in the Watergate era and bops from period to period before it ultimately concludes at the end of Nixon’s presidency. If I were to describe the historical transitions, they probably wouldn’t sound very logical, but Stone weaves together the tale in such a way that the jumps make sense and flow naturally. The shifts work effectively to create a stronger picture of the man as a whole.

And what about the Nixon that Stone portrays? Although his image has softened somewhat in recent years - especially since his death in 1994 - Nixon remains viewed as something of a monster. Frankly, I never understood this point of view. No, I wasn’t a Nixon fan - not by any stretch of the imagination - but at times it seemed as though many people considered Nixon to be a terror of Hitlerian proportions. For all his flaws, Nixon wasn’t evil, and the man depicted in this film definitely shows that to be the case.

If anything, Stone seems to view Nixon as a tragic figure. He gives the president credit where credit’s due as he details the good and the bad of his life. Okay, there’s more bad than good, but I felt the portrait seemed fair.

However, I’m not sure how accurate Stone’s psychological impressions of Nixon are. Essentially we’re shown a lonely, insulated man who spends his life wishing to be loved. You get the feeling he’d have been the greatest president of all-time if only someone gave him a hug. Stone also shows Nixon as being absolutely obsessed with the Kennedys, largely for the same psychological reasons; he just wants to be loved, and the manner in which JFK was embraced grates on Dick.

I don’t have a tremendous grasp of the intricacies of Nixon’s life, so I can’t comment on the veracity of Stone’s emotional interpretation. However, I will at least give him credit for trying to provide something that didn’t just dryly reiterate facts and biographical details. Stone seems to have based his ideas on various records, so I doubt he’s totally off base. In any case, those dimensions add spark and depth to the proceedings.

In addition to Stone’s creative storytelling and visceral filmwork, Nixon succeeds because of an excellent cast. However, I remain unimpressed with Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of the man himself. Many seem to feel that Hopkins truly nailed the essence of Nixon, but I don’t see it that way. I recognize that an actor doesn’t have to do a picture-perfect imitation of a person to be acceptable in the role, but Hopkins looks and sounds so little like Nixon that I simply had a great deal of difficulty getting past the differences.

In The Doors, Val Kilmer replicated Jim Morrison so accurately that I thought the two looked virtually identical until I saw material of Morrison shown during the DVD’s documentary; upon closer examination, the differences were much clearer. No such comparisons were necessary during Nixon, as I never felt as though I was watching the ex-president. Hopkins’ dissimilarities to Nixon made his performance distracting to me for much of the film. He pulled off Nixon’s post-Watergate disintegration much more successfully than the earlier scenes, I’ll admit, and as a performance, Hopkins does a very solid job. I simply was never able to suspend my disbelief.

The same was not true for some of the other actors, a few of whom seemed as miscast as Hopkins. Most prominent in that regard was Paul Sorvino as Henry Kissinger. Conjure a mental image of Kissinger, and then dial up a picture of Sorvino - not too similar, are they? However, Sorvino replicates Kissinger so closely that it’s scary. Via makeup, he looks a tremendous amount like Kissinger, and he absolutely nails the voice and demeanor. It’s an excellent performance that went far.

Also terrific was Joan Allen as Nixon’s wife Pat. Of the main actors, she probably looked the most like the person she played, and this resemblance definitely helped her work. However, Allen was able to inhabit the role to a degree beyond mere impersonation. Actually, I think her performance was especially remarkable because of her limited screen time. Hopkins had the entire film to make us believe him, though I don’t think he ever did this. Allen, on the other hand, had to communicate a wide variety of attitudes and demeanors across a span of years without the same amount of screen “transition time”; in a few short minutes, Allen was able to make us see the ways that her husband’s life wore on her. It’s a terrific performance that helped make the film work.

The remaining supporting cast was also very strong, though the other actors had an advantage over Hopkins, Allen and Sorvino; though many of the portrayed personages are very famous, they lacked the higher public profiles of the Nixons and Kissinger. I have a vague idea of how folks like John Dean looked and sounded, but not to anywhere near the degree of my acquaintance with these others. In any case, the all-star cast - which includes actors like James Woods as Bob Haldeman, David Hyde Pierce as Dean, and Ed Harris as Howard Hunt - performed admirably.

Two casting footnotes: First, note the presence of Dan Hedaya as Trini Cardoza. Hedaya - best known as Carla’s sleazy husband Nick on Cheers - would play Nixon himself in 1999’s comedy Dick. Also, in the “Walt must be spinning in his grave” category we found Brian Bedford as Clyde Tolson, allegedly gay consort of J. Edgar Hoover (played by Bob Hoskins). Bedford starred as the dashing lead character in Disney’s 1973 animated version of Robin Hood.

In Oliver Stone’s Nixon, we find a surprisingly compassionate and open-minded portrait of the 20th century’s most infamous president. Whether or not the movie will cause many to rethink their ideas about the man is unknown to me, but for all the flaws on display, I think the film succeeds in that it created an interest in me to discover more facts for myself. Even if much of Nixon is bunk - always a strong possibility in an Oliver Stone flick - it deserves credit for its nicely complicated look at a famous figure.

Note that this DVD includes the “Extended Director’s Cut” of Nixon. This features an additional 31 minutes of footage that has been placed back into the film. As a whole, the added scenes are interesting, and I didn’t feel they made the movie drag in any way. (By the way, the DVD’s case states that the flick presents “28 minutes” of added footage, but since the DC lasts 212 minutes while the theatrical cut ran 191 minutes, that math doesn’t make sense to me. Personally, I wish they’d reinserted 18 and a half minutes of shots.)


The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio B/ Bonus B+

Nixon appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This was an inconsistent and generally bland presentation.

Sharpness generally appeared decent, though moderate softness affected wider shots. Edge haloes tended to be a bit heavy at times, and I occasionally saw a “stair-stepping” effect in edges that made them look artificially harsh. The issue occurred infrequently, but it did distract me at times; it seemed most obvious during the scenes shot in black and white. Otherwise, moiré effects appeared largely absent; I witnessed a modest shimmer on two or three occasions but nothing more than that.

Print flaws also showed no significant concerns. The film displayed a little grit and a few speckles but nothing worse than that. Actually, you will encounter some instances of more serious grain, grit, etc., but I won’t refer to these as defects because they were intentional. As was also the case with other Stone films like JFK and Natural Born Killers, he used a variety of film stocks in Nixon, and many of them were intentionally flawed to suit the “feel” of the scene. I can’t call these “flaws” because they were done on purpose.

Colors usually seemed decent but not much better. Though the movie occasionally utilized various kinds of stylized hues, most of the film stuck with natural tones, though they didn’t look particularly natural; they tended to be a bit brown and flat. Black levels seemed deep and dark, with acceptable contrast, and shadow detail looked clear and appropriately opaque; at no time did I discern any excessive thickness to the low light sequences.

The comments above applied to about 85 percent of the movie - so what about that other 15 percent? Well, that was a rough estimate of the amount of Nixon devoted to footage reinstated for the “director’s cut”. Some DVDs helpfully indicate which scenes are new to the expanded version, but Nixon does not; nowhere in the package or on the DVD itself will you be notified which segments were added. However, you really don’t need such specifications because you’ll see them for yourself; the difference in quality between the original footage and the reinserted shots is startling.

As a whole, the director’s cut scenes look pretty bad. They appeared quite fuzzy and lacked significant depth or detail. They also appeared bland and without much color; part of this may be due to the design of the scenes themselves, but I thought these segments were excessively drab. I don’t know the source of these portions of Nixon, but they look VHS in origin to me. Enough of the movie looked decent to make this a “C-“ transfer, but it wasn’t any better than that.

Audio quality seemed more consistent, though the added sequences caused some issues that I’ll address later in the review. For the most part, however, the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks of Nixon offered a satisfying experience. Not surprisingly, the soundfield strongly emphasized the forward channels. In those speakers, I heard well-differentiated audio that seemed natural and evenly spaced between the speakers. There wasn’t a tremendous amount of localized sound since the music dominated the track, but the atmosphere appeared appropriate and the sounds came from the logical positions. The surrounds kicked in with reinforcement for the score and general ambiance. Again, Nixon didn’t require a killer surround track, and the mix here aptly fit the film.

Audio quality appeared solid. Dialogue usually sounded distinct and natural with no issues related to intelligibility. However, some lines came across as slightly edgy at times. Effects seemed clean and realistic and offered no signs of distortion. The score came across as wonderfully full and rich, and the music also offered excellent low end. Throughout the movie, bass response seemed tight and deep, and these elements added to the overall impact of this very good soundtrack.

As I noted, the sound appeared somewhat less terrific during the scenes reinserted for this director’s cut, but the differences were much less severe than those observed in the visual domain. For the most part, the added segments displayed a fairly monophonic bias, though I did detect some stereo spread at times. Most of the extended snippets were rather quiet, however, so the soundfield became less of a factor. Quality seemed slightly less strong than during the remainder of the film, but the two sounded acceptably similar. If you listen carefully, you can detect some differences between the audio heard in the original scenes and those added to this version, but the sound presented none of the significant problems observed in those video elements.

In this two-DVD special edition, we find a slew of extras, most of which reside on the second disc. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t get hours of material on DVD one, because it contains two separate audio commentaries from director Oliver Stone. I was surprised to see two different tracks and I initially thought that one must be new while the other was created for an old laserdisc release. However, a screening indicates that both are recent efforts. I can’t specify actual recording dates, but Stone mentions the death of Madeline Kahn in the first track, which means it had to take place after December 1999. In the second commentary, Stone mentions that he was able to revisit the film for the director’s cut and he states he got to do so “five years later”. As such, we can tell that both tracks are recent, though I have no idea why Stone sat down to talk about Nixon twice in such a short time-frame.

In any case, the first commentary is easily the more compelling. Stone aptly covers a variety of topics such as some historical liberties, various aspects of Nixon’s life and career, and the different technical challenges presented by the subject. The latter area was most interesting because Stone wanted events to be real but also knew that he had to provide exposition that would make them not exactly true to life. For example, during an added scene between Nixon and CIA director Richard Helms, the two have to make lots of statements that would have been unnecessary but need to be mentioned to keep the crowd “in the know”. The track occasionally suffers from some moderately long gaps, but since the film runs more than three and a half hours, that’s not a big problem.

Empty spaces are much more of a concern during the second commentary because it offers more blank spots, and these run longer in time. At times Stone chimes in with some compelling comments - especially when he talked about the alterations he made for the director’s cut, something he didn’t discuss in the other track – but he goes mum for extended periods. This commentary needs an index to make it an easier listen; Stone offers some good information, but the infrequency of his statements makes it frustrating.

By the way, Stone makes some comments that I found fairly dumbfounding. Stone briefly touches on the fact that Nixon apparently watched Patton repeatedly at one point and that it seemed to affect his war policy. Stone calls Patton “jingoistic”, which makes me wonder if he ever actually watched the movie. Granted, Patton is a movie that I think functions as something of a cinematic Rorschach; whether hawk or dove, the viewer sees what the viewer wants to see. I’m just surprised that Stone would see it as a pro-war, blindly supportive flick.

On the second DVD, we discover additional supplements. The prime feature here seems to be a collection of Deleted Scenes. Here we get 11 different segments, each of which is introduced by Stone. (The DVD menu refers to “audio commentary” by Stone for all of these snippets, but this simply means the introductions.) The section also begins with a lengthy (8:15) overview from Stone and it finishes with some closing thoughts. Those two pieces were very valuable, as Stone actually discussed the production itself in more detail than during the audio commentaries. His statements are compelling and stimulating.

I also liked all of his introductions to the individual deleted scenes. Unfortunately, the snippets themselves are less valuable. This isn’t because the shots are dull or worthless. No, many of them are quite good, really. My complaint stems from redundancy. Of the 11 scenes, only four of them don’t already appear in the “director’s cut”. Of those four, two are completely new segments: “Bull Ring” and “Jones Ranch Barbecue”, both of which involve the Larry Hagman character. The other two - “Air Force One” and “Rockefeller Party” - are extended versions of existing scenes.

Granted, I don’t mind the duplication of the other seven clips too much because we get to hear more from Stone about them. Nonetheless, some may be irritated at having to wade through repeated material. Aren’t you glad I’m here to tell you which clips to skip? Happily, the DVD includes chapter stops for each scene, so you can easily jump from one Stone introduction to the next; you aren’t stuck watching material you’ve already seen, so you can just check out Stone’s comments and then move to the next part.

Next up is a compelling piece called Charlie Rose Interviews Oliver Stone. Unlike the snippet found on the Natural Born Killers DVD, we get the entire 55-minute episode of Rose’s program from 1995 when Nixon hit the screens. Some of the information duplicates the details Stone offered in the audio commentaries, but most of the discussion touches on new areas. Rose provides insightful questions and keeps the conversation moving briskly, and he’s not afraid to touch on areas of controversy as he brings up many of the criticisms leveled by Stone’s detractors. It’s a very compelling interview that went by quickly.

Much less stimulating was the DVD’s Featurette. This five-minute glorler (glorified trailer) largely combines film clips with a few shots from the set and interview snippets from principals like Stone, Hopkins, Allen, and Woods. It’s not a terrible piece, but it’s clearly promotional in nature and it offers little of value. In addition, the film’s actual theatrical trailer appears.

In Nixon, Oliver Stone showed that he could still surprise me. I expected a vicious attack on the ex-president but instead found a fairly even-handed and moving look at the private man. As with every Stone film, Nixon possesses many flaws, but it remains one of his most consistent and compelling efforts.

The DVD presents flawed picture, while the sound is more consistent and strong. This Special Edition packs in a slew of extras; although some can be frustrating at times, these supplements added to my enjoyment and understanding of the film. Despite the problems with the transfer, Nixon is a winner.

To rate this film visit the Election Year Edition review of NIXON

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main