Nixon is a 1995 American biographical film directed by Oliver Stone for Cinergi Pictures that tells the story of the political and personal life of former US President Richard Nixon, played by Anthony Hopkins.
The film portrays Nixon as a complex and, in many respects, an admirable person, though deeply flawed. It begins with a disclaimer that the film is "an attempt to understand the truth [...] based on numerous public sources and on an incomplete historical record."
The cast includes Joan Allen, Annabeth Gish, Powers Boothe, J. T. Walsh, E. G. Marshall, James Woods, Paul Sorvino, Larry Hagman, and David Hyde Pierce, plus cameos by Ed Harris, Joanna Going, and political figures such as former President Bill Clinton in TV footage from the Nixon funeral service.
This was Stone's second of three films about the American presidency, made four years after JFK about the assassination of John F. Kennedy and followed thirteen years later by W., the story of George W. Bush.
The film is non-linear, framed by scenes of Nixon listening to his secret recordings towards the end of his presidency as the Watergate crisis intensifies. As such, it covers all aspects of his life as a composite of actual events, usually in the form of memories triggered by the recordings or newsreel-style summaries. It depicts his childhood in Whittier, California, as well as his growth as a young man, football fan and player, and suitor to his eventual wife, Pat. It explores most of the important events of his presidency, including his downfall due to abuse of executive power in the White House.
The film implies that Nixon and Pat abused alcohol and prescription medication. His health problems, including his bout of phlebitis and pneumonia during the Watergate crisis, are also shown in the film, and his various medications are sometimes attributed to these health issues. It also hints at some kind of responsibility, real or imagined, that he felt towards the John F. Kennedy assassination through references to "the Bay of Pigs", the implication being that the mechanisms set into place for the invasion by him during his term as Dwight D. Eisenhower's vice president spiraled out of control to culminate in the assassination and, eventually, Watergate.
The film ends with Nixon's resignation and famous departure from the White House lawn on the helicopter, Army One. Real life footage of his funeral in Yorba Linda, California, plays out over the extended end credits, and all living ex-presidents at the time, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and then-president Bill Clinton, are shown in attendance.
- Anthony Hopkins as Richard Nixon
The studio did not like Stone's choice to play Nixon. They wanted Tom Hanks or Jack Nicholson — two of Stone's original choices. The director briefly considered Gene Hackman, Robin Williams, Gary Oldman, and Tommy Lee Jones. Stone met with Warren Beatty, but he wanted to make too many changes to the script. Stone cast Hopkins based on his performances in The Remains of the Day and Shadowlands. Of him, Stone said, "the isolation of Tony is what struck me. The loneliness. I felt that was the quality that always marked Nixon". When the actor met the director he got the impression that Stone was "one of the great bad boys of American pop culture, and I might be a fool to walk away". What convinced Hopkins to ultimately take on the role and "impersonate the soul of Nixon were the scenes in the film when he talks about his mother and father. That affected me."
- Joan Allen as Pat Nixon
When Beatty was thinking about doing the film, he insisted on doing a reading of the script with an actress and Allen was flown in from New York City. Afterwards, Beatty told Stone that he had found his Pat Nixon.
- James Woods as H. R. Haldeman
Woods talked Stone into giving him the part, a role that the director had planned to offer Ed Harris.
- J.T. Walsh as John Ehrlichman
- John Diehl as G. Gordon Liddy
- Paul Sorvino as Henry Kissinger
- Powers Boothe as Alexander Haig
- Ed Harris as E. Howard Hunt
- Bob Hoskins as J. Edgar Hoover
- Brian Bedford as Clyde Tolson
- Mary Steenburgen as Hannah Milhous Nixon
- E.G. Marshall as John N. Mitchell
- Madeline Kahn as Martha Beall Mitchell
- David Paymer as Ron Ziegler
- David Hyde Pierce as John Dean
- Kevin Dunn as Charles Colson
- Tony Goldwyn as Harold Nixon
- Saul Rubinek as Herbert G. Klein
- Edward Herrmann as Nelson Rockefeller
- Marley Shelton as Tricia Nixon Cox
- Bridgette Wilson as Sandy
- Rick Young as Mao Tes-Tung
- Robert Beltran as Frank Sturgis
- Sam Waterston as Richard Helms (scenes present only in director's cut)
- Larry Hagman as "Jack Jones"
Unlike some other characters in the film who represent actual people, Jack Jones, a billionaire investment banker and real estate tycoon, is a composite character, who is emblematic of "big business" in general. The character may be a reference to Nixon's meetings with Clint Murchison, Sr., although he also illuminates his relationships with Howard Hughes, H. L. Hunt, and other entrepreneurs.
Eric Hamburg, former speechwriter and staff member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, got the idea of a film about Nixon after having dinner with Oliver Stone. Originally, Oliver Stone had been developing two projects — the musical Evita and a movie about Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. When they both did not get made, Stone turned his attention to a biopic about Nixon. The former President's death on April 22, 1994, was also a key factor in Stone's decision to make a Nixon film. He pitched the film to Warner Bros., but, according to the director, they saw it, "as a bunch of unattractive older white men sitting around in suits, with a lot of dialogue and not enough action".
In 1993, Hamburg mentioned the idea of a Nixon film to writer Stephen J. Rivele with the concept being that they would incorporate all of the politician's misdeeds, both known and speculative. Rivele liked the idea and had previously thought about writing a play exploring the same themes. Hamburg encouraged Rivele to write a film instead and with his screenwriting partner, Christopher Wilkinson, they wrote a treatment on November 1993. They conceived of a concept referred to as "the Beast", which Wilkinson describes as "a headless monster that lurches through postwar history," a metaphor for a system of dark forces that resulted in the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. the Vietnam War, and helped Nixon's rise to power and his fall from it as well. Stone said in an interview that Nixon realizes that "the Beast" "is more powerful than he is. We can't get into it that much, but we hint at it so many times —the military-industrial complex, the forces of money". In another interview, the director elaborates,
Stone immersed himself in research with the help of Hamburg. With Hamburg and actors Hopkins and James Woods, Stone flew to Washington, D.C. and interviewed the surviving members of Nixon's inner circle: lawyer Leonard Garment and Attorney General Elliot Richardson. He also interviewed Robert McNamara, a former Secretary of Defense under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. The director also hired Alexander Butterfield, a key figure in the Watergate scandal who handled the flow of paper to the President, as a consultant to make sure that the Oval Office was realistically depicted, former deputy White House counsel John Sears, and John Dean, who made sure that every aspect of the script was accurate and wrote a few uncredited scenes for the film. Butterfield also appears in a few scenes as a White House staffer. To research their roles, Powers Boothe, David Hyde Pierce, and Paul Sorvino talked to their real-life counterparts, but J.T. Walsh decided not to contact John Ehrlichman because he had threatened to sue after reading an early version of the script and was not happy with how he was portrayed. Hopkins watched a lot of documentary footage on Nixon. At night, he would go to sleep with the Nixon footage playing, letting it seep into his subconscious. Hopkins said, "It's taking in all this information and if you're relaxed enough, it begins to take you over."
Stone originally had a three-picture deal with New Regency Films which included JFK, Heaven and Earth, and Natural Born Killers. After the success of Killers, Arnon Milchan, head of New Regency, signed Stone for three more motion pictures. Stone could make any film up to a budget of $42.5 million. When Stone told Milchan that he wanted to make Nixon, Milchan, who was not keen on the idea, told the director that he would only give him $35 million, thinking that this would cause Stone to abandon the project. Stone took the project to Hungarian financier Andrew Vajna who had co-financing deal with Disney. Vajna's company, Cinergi Films, were willing to finance the $38 million film. This angered Milchan who claimed that it was his film because of his three-picture deal with Stone and he threatened to sue. He withdrew after Stone paid him an undisclosed amount. Stone was finalizing the film's budget a week before shooting was to begin. He made a deal with Cinergi and Disney's Hollywood Pictures in order to supply the $43 million budget. To cut costs, Stone leased the White House sets from Rob Reiner's film, The American President.
The film began shooting on May 1, 1995 but there was a week of pre-shooting at the end of April to film scenes that would be used as part of a mock documentary about Nixon's career. Early on during principal photography, Hopkins was intimidated by the amount of dialogue he had to learn, that was being added and changed all the time as he recalled, "There were moments when I wanted to get out, when I wanted to just do a nice Knots Landing or something". Sorvino told him that his accent was all wrong. Sorvino claims that he told Hopkins that he thought "there was room for improvement" and that he would be willing to help him. Woods says that Sorvino told Hopkins that he was "doing the whole thing wrong" and that he was an "expert" who could help him. Woods recalls that Sorvino took Hopkins to lunch and then he quit that afternoon. Hopkins told Stone that he wanted to quit the production but the director managed to convince him to stay. According to the actors, this was all good-natured joking. Woods said, "I'd always tell him how great he was in Psycho. I'd call him Lady Perkins all the time instead of Sir Anthony Hopkins".
In spring of 1994, Time magazine reported that an early draft of the screenplay linked Nixon to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The facts contained in the script were based on research from various sources, including documents, transcripts, and hours of footage from the Nixon White House. Dean said about the film's accuracy: "In the larger picture, it reflected accurately what happened". Stone addressed the criticism of fictional material in the film, saying, "The material we invented was not done haphazardly or whimsically, it was based on research and interpretation". John Taylor, head of the Nixon Presidential Library, leaked a copy of the script to Richard Helms, former Director of the CIA, who threatened to sue the production. In response, Stone cut out all scenes with Helms from the theatrical print and claimed that he did for "artistic reasons" only to reinstate this footage on the home video release.
During the post-production phase, Stone had his editors in three different rooms with the scenes from the film revolving from one room to another, "depending on how successful they were". If one editor wasn't successful with a scene then it went to another. Stone said that it was "the most intense post- I've ever done, even more intense than JFK" because they were screening the film three times a week, making changes in 48–72 hours, rescreening the film and then making another 48 hours of changes.
In its opening weekend, the film grossed a total of $2.2 million in 514 theaters. As of December 19, 2006, it had grossed a total of $13.6 million in the United States and Canada, well below its $44 million budget.
Two days before the film was released in theaters, the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California issued a statement on behalf of his family, calling parts of the film "reprehensible" and that it was designed to "defame and degrade President and Mrs. Nixon's memories in the mind of the American public" This statement was based on a published copy of the script. The statement also criticized Stone's depiction of Nixon's private life, that of his childhood, and his part in planning the assassination of Fidel Castro. Stone responded that his "purpose in making the film, it was neither malicious nor defamatory", and was an attempt to gain "a fuller understanding of the life and career of Nixon — the good and the bad, the triumphs and the tragedies, and the legacy he left his nation and the world". Walt Disney's daughter, Diane Disney Miller, wrote a letter to his daughters saying that Stone had "committed a grave disservice to your family, to the Presidency, and to American history". Stone does not see his film as the definitive statement on Nixon but as "a basis to start reading, to start investigating on your own".
Some critics took Stone to task for portraying Nixon as an alcoholic, though Stone says that was based on information from books by Stephen Ambrose, Fawn Brodie, and Tom Wicker. Film critic Roger Ebert praised the film for how it took "on the resonance of classic tragedy. Tragedy requires the fall of a hero, and one of the achievements of it is to show that greatness was within his reach". Ebert also placed it on his list of the top ten films of the year. Janet Maslin from The New York Times praised Hopkins' performance and "his character's embattled outlook and stiff, hunched body language with amazing skill". However, Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle, felt that "the problem here isn't accuracy. It's absurdity. Hopkins' exaggerated portrayal of Nixon is the linchpin of a film that in its conception and presentation consistently veers into camp". Richard Corliss, in his review for Time, also had a problem with Hopkins' portrayal: "Hopkins, though, is a failure. He finds neither the timbre of Nixon's plummy baritone, with its wonderfully false attempts at intimacy, nor the stature of a career climber who, with raw hands, scaled the mountain and was still not high or big enough".
It was nominated for four Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Anthony Hopkins), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Joan Allen), Best Music, Original Dramatic Score, and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.
Entertainment Weekly ranked Nixon #40 on their "50 Best Biopics Ever" list and one of the 25 "Powerful Political Thrillers".
A director's cut was released on DVD with 28 minutes of previously deleted scenes restored. Much of the added time consists of two scenes: one in which Nixon meets with Central Intelligence Agency director Richard Helms (played by Sam Waterston) and another on Tricia Nixon's wedding day, where J. Edgar Hoover persuades Nixon to install the taping system in the Oval Office. The film was re-released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on August 19, 2008 with the first anamorphic widescreen version of the film in America.
- Nixon at AllRovi
- Nixon at Box Office Mojo
- Nixon at Rotten Tomatoes
- White House Museum - How accurately did the movie recreate the architecture and floor plan of the actual White House? (Review)
- Salon.com Stone interview
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