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STUDIO: Walt Disney Video
RUNNING TIME: 213 minutes
• Two audio commentaries with director Oliver Stone
• Charlie Rose interview
• Beyond Nixon documentary
• Deleted scenes
• Original theatrical trailer
Every character actor you’ve ever loved, under the watchful eye of Oliver Stone, doing what he does best. Plus 28 minutes.
Anthony Hopkins. James Woods. Joan Allen. Powers Boothe. Ed Harris. Paul Sorvino. David Hyde Pierce. J.T. Walsh. David Paymer. Mary Steenburgen. Bob Hoskins.
At first, crowds were confused when Sarah Palin transformed into a diplodocus.
Nixon chronicles a great American story of a man’s rise and fall. It uses newsreel footage and voiceover to convey grand historical changes, yet gets in close to the emotional moments that show us what the man and his decisions are made of. However, at times you get the feeling that the film cheats, by relying on audience familiarity with key players – it can just mention a name or show a portrait in the background, and these cultural figures tap into our emotions without the film having to do its own work. It makes perfect sense that Stone was able to include both these strategies, as this extended cut is longer than Citizen Kane and Date Movie put together.
Among the film’s technical achievements was pioneering work in the use of Jimmy’s WoodCam®.
And that’s the chief problem with Longard Longson: Elongtion Year Edition – with so many added scenes, the film loses hold of a coherent theme and a tight plot. The Watergate scandal is a ripping yarn, full of intrigue and sensation. The visit to China changed history. Nixon’s decision to run in ’68, after having failed spectacularly in California and having promised his wife never to go through that again, would serve as the lynchpin for a devastating character piece. Combining them only works if done with rigorous attention to pacing and a commitment to bring everything together into one story. This cut doesn’t have those things.
That’s not to say the film is bad. It’s not, nor is any scene in it. Oliver Stone is operating on a high level of artistry here, using different film stocks, a willingness to jump across time, and many fancy editing techniques to add spice and emotion to quiet moments. We really do get into Nixon’s (the character’s, if not the real man’s) head in his darkest hours.
The actors give sharp performances, particularly Hopkins as Nixon and Mary Steenburgen as his bible-crazy Quaker mother who calls people “thee” – yet uses the pronoun incorrectly. None of the cast really look like the people they’re portraying, and that’s a good thing, allowing us to concentrate on the character and performance rather than how closely they hew to real life.
“By the way, Paymer, that ain’t steak you’re eating. It’s Jake. The new PA.”
“I thought you said no more Hannibal jokes, Tony.”
“This is a Titus joke. Actually, not a joke at all, in the sense that you really are chewing on the fellow’s duodenal bulb.”
If these characters and their situation could ever muster up enough momentum, the effect would be staggering, but too often the film jumps away to start or restart another subplot. By the time the moment you were waiting for finally comes, the tension has dissipated. A few wonderful scenes, such as Nixon’s interaction with a group of students at the Lincoln Memorial and his angry lockdown of a leaky council, shake away the doldrums and get the movie back on track, but in this form, it simply has too much flab. The length promises a marathon, but the film is not in shape to run it.
The best praise I can give Nixon is that the best moments are the interpolated ones. We all know what the history books say, and those bits are re-created well, but Stone and his co-writers give us a glimpse into that which we can never know. The moments before the press conference, the hotel room reaction to Kennedy’s win, the decision over dinner to go to China. Some larger-than-life, oft-hated men are turned into semi-sympathetic characters, and though it’s not always successful, it is always interesting.
“Have you read the latest Jump Start, gentlemen? I printed it off for you. You see, the little ones commit mischiefs and then in the final panel the parents find themselves in an analogous situation. Just delightful.”
These two discs are loaded with high-quality extras – no five-minute EPK featurettes here. The first disc includes two Oliver Stone commentaries. He mostly avoids “it was hot that day of shooting,” instead giving factoids about the real-life cases. However, he leaves plenty of dead air and leaves you wishing the two tracks could be combined.
On disc 2, there’s a 55-minute Charlie Rose interview with the director and an all-new, 35-minute documentary by Sean Stone, Oliver’s son. Like the commentaries, it focuses chiefly on history, the film’s accuracy, etc. rather than the artistic choices of Stone and his actors. Interviews with historians, a congresswoman, Gore Vidal, and Bob Novak (who provides unintentional comic relief as he rails against “left-wing delusions”) add up to a fine, if scattered, portrait of a presidency. Overall, the extras, besides the commentaries, are consistently very good.
But again, the sheer length of this extended cut is a negative. Multiple commentaries don’t help when viewers won’t sit through them. The phrase ‘Deleted Scenes’ (which are offered, of course) becomes a joke. Nixon famously went on television one night with a five o’clock shadow, and by the time this release is through with you, you just might need a shave yourself.