The Assassination of Richard Nixon Movie Review
Sean Penn headlines an all-star cast that includes Naomi Watts and Don Cheadle in "The Assassination of Richard Nixon," an independent film that looks at the last year of Samuel Bicke's life, before he decided to attempt to hijack a Delta flight and crash it into the White House to kill President Richard Nixon.
Penn stars as Bicke, a struggling father who's separated from his wife (Watts) and attempting to deal with the hardship of being a commissioned furniture salesman. He is fed up with the true American way of life - that of lying and deceit and the little man getting no respect - and slowly his frustration leads to a violent end. Despite the reassurances from his friend Bonny (Cheadle) that everything will work out in the end, Bicke can't get over the fact that everyone looks down on him. He wants respect and he will go to great lengths to prove himself.
The acting is superb. Though both Watts and Cheadle are dealt very limited and ultimately uninteresting roles, Penn once again proves that he is one of the best out there. While not as impressive as he was last year in such films as "21 Grams" and "Mystic River," Penn delivers a different kind of character, a troubled man on the brink of insanity. We never get to see the "beginning" of his disenchantment, but Penn's spiral into darkness is, at times, breathtaking.
Unfortunately, the movie fails to resonate the same qualities. A very low budget film aside from the acting talent involved, "Nixon" is quiet, subtle and methodical, taking its time to watch Bicke as he edges nearer and nearer to disaster. The look, feel and ultimate approach is similar to that of last year's "Elephant," only without the master direction of Gus Van Sant. Niels Mueller, in his first directorial role, does a good but ultimately unimpressive job; "Nixon" is interesting but way too slow. The movie is only 95 minutes long, but it feels twice as long. It's hard to say where the movie goes wrong as each individual aspect is very good, but there is something that just doesn't click, something that just never engages the audience and draws it in.
Despite its slowness, the opening and closing of "Nixon" are quite good. The movie starts out with a narration by Penn, which is powerful and eerie. The narration continues throughout the course of the movie and is the highlight of the screenplay; I have to wonder if these are the true words of Sam Bicke, as they are just about perfect. The ending is also very strong and serves as a saving grace for the rest of the story.
"The Assassination of Richard Nixon" features a strong performance by Sean Penn and an interesting story that few people know about, but it is just too slow to appeal to wider audiences.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.