THE ASSASSINATION OF RICHARD NIXON
Release Date: December 29, 2004
Starring: Sean Penn, Don Cheadle, Naomi
Watts, and Jack Thompson
Runtime: 95 minutes
Director: Niels Mueller
Alfonso Cuaron and Jorge
Producer: Alfonso Cuaron and Jorge
Vergara EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS:
Arnaud Duteil, Avram Butch
Kaplan, Kevin Kennedy, Frida
Torresblanco, Alexander Payne,
and Leonardo Di Caprio
Writer: Niels Mueller and Kevin
Kennedy BASED ON THE
NOVEL/PLAY BY: N/A
Address Comments To:Jeff Sackman
155 Avenue of the Americas, 7th Floor
New York, New York 10013
Phone: (646) 293-9400
Fax: (646) 293-9407
Sam Bicke is separated from his wife and children because he can’t hold down a sales job. A mousy, not very smart man who lacks confidence and focus, Sam grows estranged from his pushy new sales boss, Jack Jones. Sam can’t seem to grasp the importance of making a proper sale with a fair profit.
Sam’s misery is compounded when his wife rebuffs his efforts to get back together and eventually divorces him. When the government turns him down for a small business loan, Sam decides all of society is corrupt because it lets the powerful trample on the little guy. Sam’s descent into alienation and radical politics ends in destruction as the Nixon administration itself slowly unravels.
Sean Penn delivers a powerful, flawless performance as an awkward, alienated, earnest idealist who fails at everything he tries. He perfectly captures the mental instability into which his character descends.
The story would have been better, however, if there was a better sub-plot and more dramatic interaction with the protagonist’s best friend, a black mechanic named Bonny Simmons, who Sam wants to run a tire business with him. There is not much of a story there to make their relationship seem real. This may be because the filmmakers ultimately see Sam’s story more as a social commentary rather than a story about a real character who has at least some chance of overcoming his dire circumstances and failures.
The movie’s production notes say that the movie tries to make viewers identify with Bicke’s personal indictment of “the diminished quality of life under a corrupt Republican administration that has waged a divisive, unpopular war.” This is a not-so-veiled attempt to compare President George Bush’s administration with Richard Nixon’s. The movie’s humanist, Marxist worldview fails, however, to make Bicke’s character into anything but a disturbed egotist and hypocrite who thinks everyone is corrupt except him. It is highly doubtful whether the average moviegoer will be able to relate to this. In the end, of course, Bicke’s radical politics end in madness, murder and self-destruction. This moral premise ultimately undermines the movie’s radical humanist worldview.
In reality, the resemblance of the Bush administration to the Nixon administration is the tendency of President Bush, like Nixon before him, to side with liberal spending programs. For example, Nixon expanded the social welfare state, though perhaps at a lower rate of increase than his left-wing predecessor, President Johnson. Under President Bush, domestic social spending has skyrocketed. Finally, it is important to note that, according to testimony and evidence gathered by journalist Jayna Davis and other reporters, there is increasing evidence of Iraqi knowledge and even involvement with the Oklahoma City bombing and the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, including 9/11. Thus, Bush’s war in Iraq may be divisive, but it may also be justified, despite any questions remaining regarding the decision to fight in Iraq and how that war is being waged. In effect, then, the filmmakers appear to be condemning President Nixon and Bush for all the wrong reasons.
THE ASSASSINATION OF RICHARD NIXON also contains plenty of strong foul language and a violent ending with some blood. Hopefully, this tale of an assassination plot against a Republican president will not inspire other left-wing lunatics, though that may be the veiled threat behind the making of this ultimately misguided movie.
Sean Penn delivers a powerful, flawless performance as an awkward, alienated, earnest idealist who fails at everything he tries. The story would have been better, however, if there was a better sub-plot and more dramatic interaction with the protagonist’s best friend, a black mechanic named Bonny Simmons, who Sam wants to run a tire business with him. The movie’s humanist, Marxist worldview is undermined by its moral premise showing that radical politics end in madness, murder and self-destruction.