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Although he's one of the most chronicled public figures of the 20th century, Richard Milhous Nixon remains an enigma to many, his decisions, motives and behavior often shrouded in mystery. With the ill-fated 1972 Watergate break-in and its tragic aftermath—culminating in the President's 1974 resignation—as its focus, NIXON examines its subject's complex life, including his difficult youth in Southern California and often troubled relationship with wife Pat. We also see Nixon's incredible political life, during which he held the offices of Congressman at age 33, Senator at 37, and Vice-President at 39, before losing the Presidential election in 1960 and the California gubernatorial race in 1962, making his startling comeback six years later to win two terms as President. With the inevitability of classical tragedy, Nixon's political career finally crumbles beneath the weight of his past, his ambitions, and his blindness to events just outside his often remarkable range of vision.
For more about Nixon and the Nixon Blu-ray release, see the Nixon Blu-ray Review
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Joan Allen, Powers Boothe, Ed Harris, Bob Hoskins
Director: Oliver Stone
» See full cast & crew
Nixon Blu-ray Review
An ambitious look at the United States' 37th president, Nixon looks and sounds great on Blu.
Reviewed by Lindsay Mayer, August 24, 2008
Nixon was a grand experiment for this particular reviewer, not only in a historical sense, but a cinematic one to boot. I only have a passing familiarity with both of the men involved - Richard Nixon and director Oliver Stone. 2008 seems to be another gala year for the notorious Hollywood filmmaker, as yet another one of his historically interpretive, always controversial films is set for its theatrical bow this October. Glibly titled W., Stone has taken on another U.S. president - and this time he doesn't wait until the man is dead, or even out of office. For the film is about incumbent George Walker Bush, and a small slew of promotion and tie-ins are following in the wake of Stone's interpretation of him. A commemorative bells-and-whistles edition of JFK is set for release in November, and this "Election Year Edition" release of Nixon precludes it by about 3 months. In fact, most of Stone's films available on Blu-ray have been released at some point this year.
But I digress. Despite all of his fame and fancy Blu-ray releases, I hadn't yet seen a single film directed by the man. I knew the name, and I knew he was generally regarded as some big to-do, but I was not sure why. Nixon would become my first exposure to his work. Three and a half hours long, the Blu-ray features the director's cut of the film, with still more material to spare. And its subject matter is, as mentioned before, another man about whom I was almost entirely ignorant. That most enigmatic, polarizing of presidential figures - Richard Milhous Nixon.
At one point during the featurette Beyond Nixon, an author observes, "The younger generation only knows of Nixon in certain mythic terms." That is quite astute, and certainly true of myself. Born 10 years after his resignation, and never one to get immersed in contemporary U.S. political muck, Nixon was a series of vague ideas and events at the back of my mind. The scandal at the Watergate Hotel, the cocker spaniel Checkers, "I am not a crook," his dour pouchy face and hands held aloft in the Victory gesture. That's about it. So the film was started with quite a generous amount of curiosity to see what Oliver Stone would offer my ignorance.
After the coda and on to the credits. A three and a half hour endurance test, it seemed. And I really was not all that closer to understanding the Nixon era, nor really Nixon as a man. Stone reaffirms himself that he is no historian, but regardless, such a broad picture of the life of Richard Nixon (played by Sir Anthony Hopkins) is presented that it's difficult feeling one way or the other about it. One has to conclude that Nixon is not made for those "outside-the-loop," so to speak. Stone utilizes an intriguing fly-on-the-wall technique that lets the viewer be privvy to many a secret meeting. Starting at Watergate and jumping back and forth in time (supposedly via Nixon's own flashbacks), the film throws around important surnames at a breckneck pace, resulting in compulsive reaches for the remote, or clicks onto Wikipedia. It is the type of film that most certainly benefits from multiple viewings, as too much occurs to take in, even at the film's massive runtime.
Epic in every sense of the word, Nixon is highly ambitious in its look at the man's life, and its speculations as to what motivated him to enact some of the presidential decrees that he did. Most of the film focuses on Nixon's "rise to power," his foreign policy, and his descent into paranoia as his administration spun out of control and a broken nation grew angry after realizing just how much it was misled. Stone implements a historical feel by weaving in a good amount of archive footage, as well as using a large amount of various film stocks and practical special effects to create visual metaphors. Nixon's childhood is shot in black-and-white, for example, and the conjectured scenes and secret meetings are often shown in 8mm to affect a sort of "bootleg" appearance. In so doing, he adds a touch of humanity to the film, but it is all too little.
The world in which Oliver Stone shows the president is incredibly remote. Smartly besuited, Nixon trollops about with White House cronies in tow. He holds appearances with Mao Zedong and Leonid Brezhnev, solicits J. Edgar Hoover (Bob Hoskins) for dirt on colleagues, and receives incentives from Texan tycoons. He is surrounded by decadence and global attention. He and other high-standing officials decide the fate of millions as if merely choosing from the dessert tray. The way in which these events occurred may or may not be faithful to actual events, but the cold practice of international strategy certainly lends a bit of believability to the happenings. Where is his family, aside from a hand-wringing Pat (Joan Allen), appearing here and there to act as his conscience? Where is the presence of the U.S. public at large? Everything is so isolated in Stone's depiction of Nixon, but perhaps that is how he wanted it to be. A man so obsessed with power and the limelight that he loses his own soul, as the Gospel quote at the film's beginning portends.
What results is an interesting "political thriller," of sorts - so extraordinary are the events that they may as well have been fully fictional. Nixon does not give the best representation of that period in history to a newcomer like myself. Nor does it give a cohesive look at the man - more of a selective light. A peek, if you will. I am more than sure that those who lived through the Nixon administration, or are more thoroughly knowledgeable of the period's political climate, will get more out of the film than I did. As a means to incite emotions and spark conversation though, the film certainly succeeds.
Nixon Blu-ray, Video Quality
Nixon is presented on this release with an AVC encoding that averages about 25 Mbps. Oliver Stone utilizes ever shifting film techniques within the span of the story he spins; on a technical level, Nixon shifts constantly from contemporary cameras and 35mm film to 16mm for an aged look of 1970s television, to even the jumpy black and white footage of a handcranked silent film camera. Color grading and other special effects were applied in post production, but overall, many practical effects were used to achieve the film's symbolism.
The transfer on this Blu-ray is quite impressive. Of course it is, at times, difficult to determine if what is seen on the screen is an aspect (or defect) of the transfer, or an intended effect from the director, but given the high quality of this picture, one can definitely give it the benefit of the doubt. Colors are as clear and distinct as they can be; the overall palette is by directorial choice a bit muted, with a "real" look to it. Blacks are deep and balanced, with no visible crush. The flashbulbs of cameras show clear whites without going out of range and blooming. Artifacts such as macroblocking, noise, or edge enhancement are not apparent, and flesh tones are natural and without push. The black and white shots are especially impressive, full of detail and having a sort of "stark" impact on the viewer. In all, the film has a wonderful visual variety to it, which the Blu-ray definitely brings to life.
Nixon Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Nixon offers up two audio tracks on its Blu-ray release. First off is a lossless PCM 5.1 mix, which certainly opens up the sound field when compared to the Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The chronic conundrum of whether the uncompressed sound really presents much usefulness in a dialogue heavy film is here, however. Front heavy and none too thrilling, the sound is focused mostly on conspiring conversations and some ambiance, like echoing footsteps, crowd noise, or the thrum of Air Force One.
Rear channels and the LFE don't seem to be too alive in this mix, though it is wholly understandable given the film's subject matter. Of note is that, like the various video processes used throughout the film, the sound is purposely warped or flat when the content onscreen switches to black and white segments, or older forms of film stock. Not one to give your speakers a workout, Nixon still has a decent audio presentation in its own right.
Nixon Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
This Blu-ray release of Nixon comes with a second disc dedicated to bonus features, and considering the length of the material, there is little wonder why a second disc was needed in the first place. Every bit of material here is quite substantial - even the trailer, which is over 4 minutes in length.
First off are the Deleted Scenes, which are presented in 4x3 standard definition. Nearly one hour long in total, this segment is bookended by 11 minutes of comments from director Oliver Stone. The scenes themselves (including individual introductions by Stone) total 47 minutes worth, and a good portion of them are admittedly rather redundant. Several scenes, previously cut from the theatrical release of the film, have been restored in this 3½ hour director's cut. Hence, they aren't exactly "deleted" any more in this Blu-ray Disc presentation. Others are merely scenes that have been somewhat extended or augmented. Some bits, like a bullriding match that is meant to represent the wildness of the political environment in Nixon's time, are rather intriguing; the latter surely could have been included on the extended edition as well, as it is only one minute long. Overall though, the excised footage does not feel like too much of a loss, as so much is presented already in Stone's cut of the film.
Beyond Nixon is a new 35 minute feature, reflecting on the making and impact of the film from professors, historians, authors, and former Nixon administration employees. The only feature in high definition, the documentary is presented in 1080i with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, and has a bit of a "History Channel" feel to it, focusing mostly on Nixon's foreign policies. Both apologetics and criticism of the man are expressed here, as well as the film's approach to depicting him.
Charlie Rose Interviews Oliver Stone is the original 1995 Charlie Rose episode which sits down with the director and discusses his filmmaking process and personal influences, as well as reflections on Nixon himself. Stone is surprisingly lauding of the former president, speculating on the man's downfalls and what motivated him to take the controversial actions that he had.
The aforementioned Original Theatrical Trailer is 4½ minutes long, and is presented in 4x3 standard definition. One must go back to the first disc for the final supplements; not one, but two audio commentaries by Oliver Stone. Commentary A has Stone discussing the film's performances, style and script. Commentary B contains his thoughts on the politics and history of the era. One might be led to think that the director really likes to talk about his film, but a sampling of the commentaries reveals a large amount of silence from the filmmaker. I can't imagine many who would want to subject themselves to such a grueling ordeal.
Nixon Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Epic in its length and ambition, Oliver Stone's Nixon is a complex and intriguing film that demands you keep up with it. So much so, in fact, that it benefits from repeat viewings to fully appreciate the span and breadth of the subject matter. Neither fully demonizing nor sympathetic, Stone still paints a remote picture of the former president, a mythic figure untouchable to his death. The Blu-ray Disc release makes for a wonderful presentation of the film, with great picture, clear sound, and a hefty amount of select extra features. Definitely a recommended title for political aficionados and those who appreciate something with a bit of substance to it... even if it is all Hollywood speculation!
Nixon Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Blu-ray Edition of Nixon Announced - July 15, 2008
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring the Oliver Stone film 'Nixon: Election Year Edition' to Blu-ray on August 19th. The disc will feature a newly remastered director's cut of the film, and will be presented in 2.40:1 1080p ...
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