What You Need To Know:
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.
(HH, CoCo, PCPC, AcapAcap, B, LLL, VV, N, A, D, MM) Humanist worldview with Marxist, politically correct, anti-capitalist, anti-conservative tone seems to unravel because its moral premise shows that radical politics end in murder and self-destruction; about 22 obscenities (including some “f” words) and nine strong profanities; strong violence includes man with gun threatens his friend’s customer behind their back, man shot in head, man shot in shoulder, man shot through window with some blood, man with gun threatens woman, man plots political assassination, and murderer’s face is bloody; no sex scenes but customer pats waitress on behind, and man’s estranged wife goes out with another man; upper male nudity; alcohol use; smoking; and, lying, fraud, radical politics, attempted plane hijacking, and divorce.
THE ASSASSINATION OF RICHARD NIXON stars Sean Penn in a measured character study of a disturbed man in 1974 who decides to take his anger out on society, his wife and his brother by killing President Richard Nixon. The man plans to fly a hijacked plane into the White House. The movie is inspired by true events. There actually was a man named Sam Bicke who tried to hijack a plane in 1974 and ram it into the White House.
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.