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Think Film

Official Site

Director: Niels Mueller

Producers: Alfonso Cuarón, Jorge Vergara

Written by: Kevin Kennedy, Niels Mueller

Cast: Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Don Cheadle, Jack Thompson


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 his administration.

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.

—Leah Churner

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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