Nixon Election Year Edition DVD Review

Cover Art and Menus: 8/10
I am a fan of the cover of Nixon.  It basically is a shot of Anthony Hopkins from behind, raising his hands in the double “V” made famous by Nixon.  It is a nicely done image where the viewer is instantly reminded of the former president, without taking the viewer out of the moment by including Hopkin’s face.  Obviously Hopkins does not really resemble the former President, and this cover allows the viewer to identify with the President himself.  There is not an image that is more attached to Nixon than this pose, and it has come to represent the man himself.

The menu for Nixon is accompanied by the soaring score that lets you know this is a movie that is both grandiose in scale and important.  Images from the film are looped above the plain and simple menu choices at the bottom of the screen.  the menu is simple and quite elegant at the same time.  Something you would hope to see in a film about an iconic U.S. President.

Features: 9/10
The features for Nixon are not short fluff pieces, which I appreciate.  The depth of the features means that they are not for the casual viewer, but for those who love movies the extras are loaded with information and glimpses into the movie making head of Oliver Stone, which is a strange but fun place to see.

  • All New Beyond Nixon Documentary By Sean Stone –The Beyond Nixon extra is a very nice feature that runs at about 35 minutes.  Put together by Oliver Stone’s son Sean, the piece is an interesting look at the movie as it compares to the memories of President Nixon by those who were close to him, or who know about him.  It is a very nice look into the differences between the artistic liberties that Oliver Stone took with the film that may or may not jibe with the memories of those who lived the events.  It was very interesting to hear from people like Gore Vidal and Oliver Stone about their take on the President.  I was a little bit shocked to hear Robert Novak’s frank discussion of some of the issues he had with the movie itself, but it was a very interesting feature.
  • Deleted Scenes Introduced By Oliver Stone –These deleted scenes are included in the movie itself, and therefore it wa hard to go back through them all.  That being said, Oliver Stone introduces the lot with a short commentary, and he also talks about most of the scenes themselves.  Stone talks about how his original version was over four hours, and he tried to cut things down but he just couldn’t hit the 2 hour mark.  The movie is long, and I think more cuts could have been made to keep the movie going, but none of the added or extended scenes that are included in this version seem too out of place.
  • Charlie Rose Interviews Oliver Stone –This is basically a Charlie Rose show with Oliver Stone that runs about 55 minutes.  I enjoyed watching the feature as it really gave Oliver Stone a chance to explain where he came from on this movie, as well as his casting ideas.  It is obvious to me that Stone is a careful, thinking kind of director, who really put a lot of thought into this movie.  He is able to describe many of the influences that he used to put this movie together, and it is apparent that he loves his craft.  Rose is an interesting interviewer, but he does ask good questions and then he gets out of the way enough to let Stone talk.  A very interesting watch.
  • 2 Audio Commentary’s –Well, there are 2 audio commentary tracks included on this edition of Nixon.  Both are done by Oliver Stone, and both, of course, run the full length of the movie.  I will remind you at this point that the movie clocks in at 3 hours and 33 minutes.  Do the math and by the time you are done with the movie and both commentaries you are looking at over 10 and 1/2 hours.  At this point I will tell you that I did not make it through all of the commentaries.  What I did get through was both informative and interesting, as Stone really delves into the background and history of the movie as opposed to telling us specifics about each shot.  The commentaries really show the passion that Stone had for this movie.  It is obvious that Stone was not a fan of Nixon, and he wanted to portray him in a human manner.  It is amazing how much thought and care went into developing Nixon by Stone, and the outcome is quite amazing.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer – Pretty basic stuff here.  This is just the trailer as it was originally presented.  It is funny that this is included as a separate extra, because the exact same trailer was shown in the Charlie Rose feature as well.

The Movie: 8/10
First and foremost Nixon is about the iconic man that was President of the United States of America.  Nixon the man was and is a controversial figure in politics, but his legend is one that everyone seems to have an opinion on.  I was born in 1970, so my knowledge and feelings towards President Richard Nixon are limited to what I have read about or learned from TV.  I do not necessarily have the same negative feelings towards the man as many in this country who are older.  Having said that, my knowledge about the man is therefore limited, and I was a bit skeptical about getting a “history lesson” from non other than Oliver Stone, who himself is a bit controversial.  I did not was to learn about President Nixon from a dramatization of what could have been, instead of what was.

Oliver Stone’s version of the man is a peek into the life of a seemingly troubled individual who was the President of a country that was in turmoil.  From the Vietnam war to the loss of John F. Kennedy, President Nixon was forced to deal with a country that was struggling.  Stone presents the Nixon that was deep in the midst of his own battle to find his feet and be accepted.  Stone weaves this story by focusing mainly on the last few years of Nixon’s presidency with flashbacks of Nixon’s past.  Stone uses a mixture of actual footage from the time with shots of his new characters.  He mixes black and white footage with color, and grainy shots to convey age with a range of fades and cut scenes to create a film that is interesting and different.  While Stone does take advantage of the medium to present his story, the main force in Nixon is the acting.

Anthony Hopkins conveys Richard Nixon as a man who is both powerful and timid at the same time.  While it is obviously Stone’s intent to portray President Nixon as a man who is struggling to find acceptance, it is Hopkins who brings that vulnerability and intense presence to the character.  Everyone in the film is magnificent and engaging.  Now obviously I am not one to judge how close to the real characters each was played, due to my age, but to me everyone seemd to jibe with the knowledge that I did have on the characters.

Joan Allen is excellent as Patrica Nixon, the President’s wife.  The pair present an almost love hate relationship, where Nixon is forced to put his political ambitions at odds with his family.  The result is often a sad and endearing view of a man who is not sure where to turn.  Allen plays Pat Nixon as a strong female who is one of the few individuals who will tell the President that he is wrong.

The rest of the cast is excellent also.  Paul Sorvino and James Woods are on par with Hopkins, and just make the scenes that they are in with Hopkins electrifying.  Also of note is Sam Waterson as the CIA Director Richard Helms.  He is intense, and as only Oliver Stone could pull off, he is made even more menacing by an unexpected shot of Helms tending to his flowers with pure black eyes.  While this would seem out of place in such a serious piece as Nixon, Stone is able to pull off little tricks like this that comment on the movie without it taking you out of the picture.  As I said, the cast is full of big names, but they all seem to be able to respect the overall vision of the movie, and they are able to give performances that seem solid and muted at the same time.

I was impressed with the fact that I did not feel like Stone preached to the viewer too much, or took too many liberties with the story.  I understand that there are issues that are presented in a light that may or may not be completely accurate, but this is President Nixon that we are talking about.  Nothing seems to have been concrete with the man anyway.  It was as if Stone brought up ideas and left them for the viewer to chew on, without force feeding any one decision on them.  I was impressed and felt that Stone did a great job of giving a view of the man that each person could attach their own ideas to, right or wrong.

I do want to comment on the fact that Nixon is incredibly long.  Stone talked about trying to get the movie cut down to about 2 hours, which would have made this a let easier to digest.  The topics and acting are heavy, and at over 3 hours it makes for a very draining movie.  I understand that Stone felt like it had to be this way, but I still wonder what this could have been if it was able to be cut down a bit.  Having said that, the Election Year Addition also includes many shots that were left out of the original, so this version is even longer than it was.  I still enjoyed Nixon a lot, and I highly recommend the movie.  Oliver Stone talked about how he hoped this movie would at least provide people with the opportunity to revisit their prejudices as they pertain to President Nixon.  I truly think that this is exactly what I got from watching the movie.  With my somewhat limited ideas as to what President Nixon represented, this movie gave me the opportunity to view President Nixon as a human, who had to deal with the choices that he brought upon himself, as opposed to simply a “crook.”

Audio & Video: 8/10
The standard DVD is presented in wide screen 2.40:1 aspect.  It is beautifully done, and it looks great.  As I mentioned before, Oliver Stone mixes grainy shots with crisp colorful scenes, and uses old footage, and even old cameras to present Nixon in a way that gives it a more authentic feel.  The result is amazing and unexpected.  It is not too jarring or hard to watch, and overall it comes off well.  The intermixing of shots of Anthony Hopkins with old footage at times can be a bit strained, and it can take you out of the movie a bit, but overall I thought it was nicely done.  The video itself was excellent.

The audio was nicely done also, and there was no issue with the mixing of the music and the dialogue.  The theme was done by John Williams, and it was regal and patriotic, as it should be.  Obviously Nixon is not a “bombastic” type of film, but it was presented in 5.1 Surround Sound, and while I didn’t really notice the Surround sound being used too much, that may be a good thing.  Overall the audio was great.

Value: 7/10
I highly recommend at least viewing Nixon if you have not done so already.  For those of you who have seen the film, perhaps a rent is in order just to see the extended version presented here.  I am not too sure that many people will want to sit down for over 3 hours though if they have seen the original theatrical version.  This 2 disc release is chock full of extras however, and the extras are fabulous.  Oliver Stone is an amazing filmmaker, and to see the thought process behind any of this films is just amazing.  As he states, he is most proud of this movie, and rightly so .  For and President Nixon fan, or for any President Nixon hater, at least see this film if you have not already.  If for no other reason than to give you the opportunity to revisit such an amazing time in U.S. history.

Overall Score 8/10