Parents' Guide to

Nixon

By Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 15+

Dense psychodrama of much-disliked U.S. president.

Movie R 1995 181 minutes
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This certainly is an interpretive psycho-drama, more so than a straightfoward this-happened-then-that-happened historical pageant. (It sure isn't Watergate-for-Dummies, and young viewers in particular ought to do some homework on the history if they want to watch the film seriously). Filmmaker Oliver Stone began shooting Nixon while the real-life subject was still alive (footage of Nixon's funeral is incorporated into the epilogue), and critics of the controversial writer-director (and Vietnam veteran) were apt to dismiss the biopic as sensational scandalmongering and conspiracy-thinking. Some scenes are grounded in fact and taped Oval Office conversations, others pure speculation (wife Pat Nixon, a very private individual, here harangues Richard like a stand-in for all the protesters).

What is surprising is how much empathy Stone seems to have for a leader so widely hated -- especially by Hollywood and media types. Concurrent with his shameful and underhanded scheming, we see (or are told by other characters) that President Nixon confronted challenges as fearful as those faced by Abraham Lincoln, and he prevailed in peace talks with Communist superpowers Russia and China. "He had greatness within his grasp," says a mournful Henry Kissinger (Paul Sorvino). British actor Anthony Hopkins doesn't look or sound much like Nixon, but in his semi-impression he does conjure up the body language and discomfort of a driven, ambitious man who feels slighted and an outsider all his life because he wasn't born an elite -- like Kennedy. That's envy more than a few kids might relate to.

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