Kino Lorber Studio Classics recently released a three-disc Special Edition of Oliver Stone’s 1995 film, Nixon. It contains both the original 191-minute Theatrical Cut (premiering for the first time in HD on a Blu-ray disc) and the extended 212-minute Director’s Cut (which was only on the two-disc Disney/Buena Vista Election Year Blu-ray released in 2008).
Richard M. Nixon is the only U.S. president ever to resign his office to avoid being impeached. As is Oliver Stone’s policy, he doesn’t claim to be a historian; therefore, he brings his own theories to this in-depth look at one of the United States most controversial figures in history. The theatrical release of Nixon was a staggering three hours and twelve minutes, making the film and epic to watch. The Director’s Cut includes twenty-eight minutes of footage not included in the original theatrical release, making the total running time three hours and thirty-three minutes.
Running time aside, Nixon is an interesting film. Stone has painted a picture of a brooding, smart, tortured man, sinking into the gloom of a White House under siege, haunted by the events of his childhood. Haunted as he was, Nixon was too proud a man to express his fears, so the few people close to him, even his wife and family, slowly pulled away from him.
Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs) does an excellent job as Richard Nixon. Though he doesn’t particularly look or sound like the 37th president. Instead, he uses his acting talents to create a deep and resounding portrait of the man, rather than a caricature. Stone’s use of flashbacks, newsreels and broadcast voices take our mind off the look and sound of Hopkins, and deeper into the insecurities that clearly plagued Richard Nixon for most of his life.
The infamous 18 1/2-minute gap on the White House tapes represents the angst the tears at Nixon’s soul. It’s a secret that Nixon hints at throughout the film but is never revealed. There is an implication that a CIA operation against Cuba, started with Nixon’s knowledge during the last years of the Eisenhower administration, went awry and led to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
After Nixon finds out that former CIA Cuba conspirator E. Howard Hunt (Ed Harris), was involved in the Watergate break-in, he mutters, “He’s the darkness reaching out for the dark. Open up that scab, you uncover a lot of pus.” On another occasion, Nixon remarks to an aide, “Whoever killed Kennedy came from this thing we created – this Beast.” Of course, Nixon may have been haunted by the fact that he had somehow aided in the assignation of President Kennedy, but Stone shows that Nixon’s own childhood was a source of tremendous angst. Two of his brothers died, and his Quaker parents filled him both with a sense of duty and inadequacy. His mother Hannah Nixon (Mary Steenburgen), perhaps because of the death of two of her sons, held Richard to an incredibly lofty standard. Richard himself lived by his father Frank’s (Tom Bower) motto: “When you quit struggling, they’ve beaten you.”
Given Stone’s history of playing fast and loose with facts, some will discredit Nixon as utter rubbish. That would be too bad. Both the story and the acting in this film are not to be missed. Aware of his reputation, Stone opens with the disclaimer that some scenes are based on hypothesis and speculation. However, many scenes are ripped out of the history books: the Checkers speech, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore”; the summit with Mao; the bizarre midnight visit with anti-war protesters at the Lincoln Memorial, and the strange scene, reported in Woodward and Bernstein’s The Final Days, in which a ruined Nixon asks Henry Kissinger to join him on his knees in prayer.
Stone has surrounded Anthony Hopkins with a list of impressive actors playing figures who have a prominent place in American history. Bob Hoskins plays the powerful, nasty J. Edgar Hoover, eating melon from the mouth of a handsome pool boy. Paul Sorvino plays Henry Kissinger, smart and helpful, but always looking out for his own self-interests. J. T. Walsh and James Woods are Ehrlichman and Haldeman, carefully monitoring the inner circle. David Hyde Pierce is John Dean, White House counsel but never quite a member of the inner circle. Powers Boothe is Alexander Haig, the White House Chief of Staff who succeeded Haldeman, and guided the president toward resignation.
The pivotal supporting performance comes from Joan Allen as Pat Nixon. Portrayed as both strong-willed and tired, she knows her husband is an unhappy man. Consistently pushed aside and belittled, Pat is tired of being a politician’s wife. Their daughters, she says, know their father only from television. Unfortunately for her, Richard Nixon’s only identity was in public life, even if it meant destroying himself in the process.
Both cuts are presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Composed of several different types of film stock to mirror different eras, the transfer handles it all quite well. Blacks are consistent, and detail is more than adequate. Flesh tones appear normal throughput, and the color palette is pleasing.
Kino has supplied a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio Surround Track and a DTS Master Audio 2.0 Stereo Mix on the Director’s Cut. The Theatrical Cut also contains a DTS Master Audio 5.1 Surround Track. Nixon is a very dialogue heavy film, and the 5.1 Surround Track handles dialogue with notable crispness. The bass is excellent throughout. John Williams’ score comes across warmly, and there are no anomalies apparent.
English SDH subtitles are included for both cuts.
The following extras are available.
Kino has ported over the extras from the 2008 Disney/Buena Vista Blu-ray release.
Disc One: Director’s Cut
- Audio Commentary 1: Director Oliver Stone: Stone discusses some of the real history behind certain scenes, as well as the usual comments about the actors and stylistic choices, all fairly informative.
- Audio Commentary 2: Director Oliver Stone: This covers behind-the-scenes materials, trivia, and related items. Given the long silences, the two commentaries might have worked better as one
Disc Two: Theatrical Cut
- NEW! Audio Commentary with Film Historian Jim Hemphill: A self-described huge fan of the film, Hemphill’s passion comes through as he discusses several aspects of the film.
Disc Three: Extras
- Deleted Scenes with Introductions By Oliver Stone (SD, 58:38) Twelve scenes, some were later reconstructed for the Director’s Cut.
- Beyond Nixon (HD, 35:19) directed by Sean Stone, this circa 2007 documentary featuring interviews with some of Washington’s biggest names about the film. Interviewees include: John Dean, Robert Novak, Gore Vidal and Howard Zinn, among others.
- Charlie Rose Interviews Oliver Stone (SD, 55:09) From a 1995 appearance on The Charlie Rose Show.
- Making-of-Featurette (SD, 5:00) Typical EPK featuring Oliver Stone, Anthony Hopkins, Joan Allen and James Woods.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 4:32)