The Assassination of Richard Nixon manages to be both
a historical drama of considerable integrity and a political parable
of considerable potency. The film shirks easy answers; it has no
clear villains, and its underdog not a Moore-ish
Robin Hood, but a genuine loser.
Set in January 1974, writer/director Niels Mueller’s
film paints a familiar backdrop: The United States is fighting in
a war in which civilians are indistinguishable from the enemy. Gas
prices are at an all-time high and employment is low. Most significantly,
the president had been elected for a second term, in spite of the
continuing war, the economy, and the air of scandal surrounding
Yet—despite the title—this is not a film about Nixon,
nor is it a film about George W. Bush. Its implications
expand much further. Ultimately it is a poignant essay on masculine
identity and the American Dream.
Based on real-life events, The Assassination Of Richard Nixon
is the story of Sam Bicke (Penn), a debt-ridden
office furniture salesman who, after a series of failed attempts
at winning back the wife who left him, decides he must take action
against the “system” that robbed him of his piece of
the American Dream. He tries becoming a self-employed entrepreneur,
tries joining the Black Panthers, but fails. In his final scheme,
he plans to hijack a jet and fly it into the White House.
Mueller’s Bicke is straight out of Dostoevsky;
he is as debilitated by the world’s injustice as Crime
and Punishment’s Raskolnikov and as repulsively desperate
as the Underground Man.
I’ve heard people say that this film is a remake of Taxi
Driver. No. While it may be a homage, it is absolutely a masterpiece
in itself. I daresay Penn’s brilliant performance rivals even
De Niro’s. The Assassination Of Richard
Nixon is one of the most intricate, beautiful, and devastating
films of 2004.