Written by Kevin Kennedy and Niels Mueller
Directed by Niels Mueller
Running Time: 1:35
for language and a scene of graphic violence.
The Assassination of Richard Nixon featured a strong performance from Sean Penn, but the story didn't hold my interest as much as it should have.
It's 1974 and Sam Bicke is separated from his wife and kids, can't hold a job, is best friends with a black man, but still has a dream to make himself into a big success. He gets a job selling office furniture, and has a plan to sell tires door to door with his best friend Bonny. He hopes that this will get him back in the good graces of his wife Marie. But as always, things don't go right for Sam. The job forces him to lie to land customers, the fact that Bonny is black holds him back from getting a loan for his business, and his wife seems to have already moved on. Sam feels the world is full of liars and racists, and the biggest of them all is none other than the President, Richard Nixon. Sam concocts a plan to take out Nixon (in a manner eerily similar to the 9/11 attacks) and make a name for himself in the process.
The Assassination of Richard Nixon was based on a true story that I have to admit, I'd never heard of before now. As evidenced in the movie, the assassination attempt didn't get too far, which might explain why I've never heard of it. While Penn gives another terrific performance, I didn't find the rest of the movie around him to be very engaging. The movie never fully gives a reason as to why he decides to go after Nixon. Yes, Nixon was proven to be a big liar, that much I can accept. But he was never thought to be a racist was he? And both those ideals were big things in Sam's life. Yes Sam believes he was turned down for a loan by the government because he siad his partner was black, but the leap from that to blaming Nixon wasn't explored. It would be easy to say that Sam was slowly going insane and that rational reasoning took a back seat, but I don't buy it. I wish the movie had made the connections more believable, rather than simply showing Nixon on a TV screen a few times, and having one character say that Nixon was the greatest salesman of them all. Other than that I never understood why Sam would want to kill the President. That's a fairly big step for a small man to take without good reason. And why on Earth would Sam send letters to Leonard Bernstein? A very short narrarated explanation was given but that whole thing seemed to come completely out of left field and there was nothing else in the movie ever said to justify it.
A fine supporting cast, lead by Naomi Watts and Don Cheadle was basically wasted. Neither of them were in the film enough to really support Penn. This movie was all Penn, all the time. I consider Penn to be one of the finest actors working today. I've rarely seen him give a bad performance, and I still believe he gave one of the three best acting portrayals I've ever witnessed in Dead Man Walking (where we was robbed for that Oscar.) And while he did a great job in this film there wasn't much around him to help out. You got a good sense of his character, filled with hope and dreams in the beginning, slowly moving towards giving up on life, and then exploding at the end. But again, that was through his performance, not through a strong writing. I will admit, I watched this movie at home with a VHS screener copy and not in theaters, so that may have played into it, but at the same time I never felt engaged. Here is a movie whose very title suggests something sinister and I didn't really get into the film until the end. A lot of it was very slow moving, even for such a short film (clocking in at 95 minutes.) I will give the movie credit for the violent and shocking ending. I didn't expect everything that happened to happen and it made me wonder again how I hadn't heard of this story up until now.
OK, now you're wondering what the other two top acting performances were. Denzel Washington in Malcolm X (another Oscar snub) and Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull. Those, along with Penn in Dead Man Walking are my top three acting achievements of all time.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I thought Sean Penn did a terrific job in The Assassination of Richard Nixon but the movie itself wasn't very strong. There were leaps made in the film that didn't make a lot of sense with the facts we were given.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince