THE ASSASSINATION OF RICHARD NIXON
US, 2004, 100 minutes, Colour.
Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Don Cheadle, Jack Thompson, Brad Henke, Nick Searcy, Michael Wincott, Mykelti Williamson.
Directed by Niels Mueller.
Nixon was never assassinated, of course, but there was an incident at an airport in the early 1970s where a man wanted to hijack a plane with the threat of a gun and a bomb. This story relates to that incident.
The film is principally a portrait of a disillusioned man, a man with little self-esteem, looked down on by his successful brother (whom he stupidly tries to cheat), divorced from his wife and allowed rarely to see his children, patronised by a loud furniture salesman boss and his son. He tries to read the recommended self-help books but is caught up in the rights and wrongs of truth and lies in business. And, all the while, on television, there is Richard Nixon extolling the American way of life and how much opportunity there is for everyone. This is not the perspective of Sam Bicke.
Sam Bicke is another outstanding performance by Sean Penn. We know he is destined to failure and to violence but one can't help liking him, having care and pity for him and agreeing with his feelings on the oppression of ordinary people. In his recent films, Penn has proven himself a consummate actor.
There is great support from Naomi Watts as his ordinary and hassled wife, from Jack Thompson as his supremely self-confident boss, from Don Cheadle as his good friend and support and, in just one scene, Michael Wincott as his older brother.
You know the mayhem is coming and why, but it is still shocking when it happens.
Obviously a grim film, but well worthwhile.
1. The United States in 2004, the issues, the memories of thirty years earlier? Government, ordinary citizens, rights, oppression, self-image?
2. The structure of the film: the day, the two-weeks flashback, the year flashback? The voicing of his opinions on tapes to Leonard Bernstein, Leonard Bernstein's music, his decision to send the tapes to him?
3. The portrait of Sam Bicke, his family background, growing up in Baltimore, the details of his life, motivations, failures, self-image?
4. Sam and his brother Julius, leaving Julius's firm, repaying the money, not wanting to meet his brother at the garage? His marriage to Mary, almost ten years, the separation, the three children, the reasons for the break-up? His visit, repaying the money, Mary not wanting him to come? Asking him to phone? Ten o'clock Sunday morning, the instant phone call, her not being there? His all-day vigil, seeing the man bring the family home? Visiting Mary at the restaurant, commenting on the dress she had to wear, the attitudes of the customers, his eating, the comments about salt, his throwing the drink at the customer? The children, the photo, the surly daughter, the loving daughter, his son? The sudden arrival of the divorce papers? His early-morning call to his mother-in-law, the phone call to Mary? His friendship with Bonnie, the plan for the bus and selling the tyres, their talk at the garage, Bonnie giving him good advice, countering his intensity, the discussions about honest and price-fixing, profit? The race issues? Sam seeing the gun, pointing it at the customer? Bonnie and his talk about jobs, Sam's visit to the family, the meal, the intense hugging of the boy? His loneliness and needing family? Bonnie going to jail through Sam's fault, Julius bailing him out? His going for the loan, the interview with Mr Ford, explaining his dream, explaining the profit margins, pestering the secretary, the final talk with Mr Ford, the empty mail box, the final letter and his silent reading of it? His work for Mr Jones, the sales, selling the chairs, Jones showing the salesman know-how, the desk and the test about money, reading the books, listening to the tapes, doing the gestures in the mirror, his mouthing the effectiveness of the sales talk? The effect on his work, Jones wanting him to shave the moustache, Mary's advice? Mary refusing to come to a meal at Mr Jones's place? Jones and his son, the smooth talk, the clients? Drinks with Mr Jones, his hitting on the girl, the discussion about whether he was married or not? Sam and his intensity about lies and price-fixing? Leaving his job, going to the restaurant with the possibility of shooting Jones? The phone call about the tyres and the delivery, going against Julius? Julius's arrival, the intense scene of Julius explaining his life to him and his response, excusing himself? The details of Sam's life at home, watching the television, meals, his bedroom, exercise, just being alone?
5. Nixon on the television, audience attitudes towards Nixon, Nixon in the 70s, the explanations? His talks, promises, saying he was not a crook, the scope of his initiatives? Watergate? Jones explaining Nixon as a master salesman, the '68 election and selling peace and withdrawing from Vietnam, not fulfilling his promise, the same promises in 1972 and a landslide victory? Images of the Nixon family? The contrast with the lives of ordinary people and the expression of these ideas to Bernstein? His visit to the Black Panthers after seeing the television interview, his ideas for them, the zebra, black and white? The donation of $107?
6. The portrait of Mary, her relationship with Sam, the children, the alienation, not wanting him to come around, her getting exasperated, looking after the children, going out? The divorce?
7. Mr Jones, the complete salesman, his manner in operation, his explanation of Nixon, his son and his following his father's footsteps, the techniques with the customers, facing Sam, encouraging him, not ridiculing him --but finally having to let him go, the possibility of his being shot?
8. Sam and his growing desperation, not having any sleep, getting the gun, preparing the bomb, the decision to act? His motivations for acting, his self-justification?
9. Going to the airport, falling asleep, the security at the airport, taking out his gun, shooting the attendant, running down the corridor, pushing the passengers, confronting the pilots, shooting the pilot, taking the flight attendant, her getting out and locking the door, his taking the hostage, her plea, the explanation of flying the plane, wounding the other pilot? His being shot through the door window? His final thoughts as he sank down and died?
10. The aftermath of his death, the television information, his friends and their going about their lives, Nixon - and his resignation later that year? What he had achieved - Sam and his saying that he wanted to be remembered for what he did?