Oliver Stone's bombastic directorial style is always fun to watch-yet never
credible. Thus he has found the perfect subject: the liar of all American
liars. As usual, Stone has managed to generate controversy, ranging from
old Watergate impressarios whining on the op-ed pages to historians warning
him that his kind of history will be the downfall of the empire! Yawn......
Despite the pundits, "Nixon" is an obvious challenge, not least
for British actor Anthony Hopkins, arguably the greatest actor of our time
playing the worst actor ever to stride the stage of politics. Hopkins acquits
himself by making the chip on Nixon's shoulder bigger than the hunch-back
Hopkins' performance is fall that saves the movie from the excesses of Oliver,
who frolics in the cheezy and cheap techniques of cheap advertising-clouds
racing across the sky above the capitol, b & w flashbacks to the California
of Grapes and Wrath, etc. Stone has made so much money, he's surely deep
into analysis by now, which may account for the way he allows himself to
get distracted by Freud. He has projected onto the story of the indefatigable
Nixon the tale of a Quaker mother who wants Richard always to tell the truth.
Incidentally, she is completely inept at using "thee" and "thou"
properly. (Haven't the screenwriters ever dipped into the King James Version?)
Stone's best scenes are when Nixon boils over about the effete (expletive)
intellectual (expletive) snobs of the East (expletive) Coast (expletive)
Establishment. Nixon's arrogance in being a self-made man seems to be the
only thing he ever had to be proud of; all that other territory, like foreign
policy, has been claimed by Kissinger! But the man he created out of himself
was a fabric of lies. That's the myth of Nixon Agonistes.
The only interesting question the film raises is not really inside the film.
It's in the response to the film. Nobody asks the question, WHY NOT LIE?
In post-Nixon America, it's the rule, not the exception. It's also, paradoxically,
our favorite way of discrediting the other guy: S/HE'S LYING!
Does anybody care? No, because we assume we are being lied to, and the
news and subsequent record called History only prove to us that we are justified
in that belief. In politics, lying is de rigeur (that's French for "shut
up and die like an aviator"). Government officials lie, because the
press can't report accurately and is prone to think "we have a right
to know" justifies screwing up long-range planning. Politicians lie,
because they don't trust the voters to understand the tangled skein of issues
that affect, say, the First Amendment and the internet. And they're right!
Who would trust megaliths like Time/Warner or The New York Times (who clearly
have their own agendas)? Who would trust the people who voted for Reagan
Politicians lie the same way baseball players chew tobacco or bond salesmen
jump up on their seats after making a million bucks. And Nixon's the guy
who made that all perfectly clear.
The comedic part of Stone's film is when the Watergaters stand around wringing
their hands over who may know they're lying. Puhleeze. Everybody knew
it. It's been our political stock in trade since at least four-score and
seven years ago.
I can't wait for Oliver Stone's next prexy bio-pic. Will he continue his
obsession with the Deceit of America by taking on Reagan, The Great Communicator?