The Assassination of Richard Nixon
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Niels Mueller
scr Kevin Kennedy, Niels Mueller
with Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Don Cheadle, Jack Thompson, Michael Wincott, Mykelti Williamson, Brad Henke, Nick Searcy, April Grace, Derek Greene, Joe Marinelli, Jenna Milton
release US 29.Dec.04, UK 8.Apr.05
04/US 1h35

One drink and then I'll go: Penn and Watts

penn watts cheadle

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The Assassination of Richard Nixon This chilling true story is told with an elegiac style, like an ode to the oppressed working man. Despite the heavy political subtext, it's a compelling and extremely timely story.

In 1973, Sam Bicke (Penn) finds life beginning to crumble. His estranged wife (Watts) seems uninterested in getting back together. His boss (Thompson) seems to be asking him to lie at work--something that caused him to stop working for his brother (Wincott). Only his best friend (Cheadle) seems like an honest man, and now Sam's beginning to wonder about him too. If everyone in society is content to lie, maybe he needs to do something drastic to shake people up. Like kill the President.

Watching Sam lose his grip on reality is extremely frightening, especially since he's a nice guy with simple goals: He wants to be an honest man, to work and have a family. But "what good is good in times like these?" Penn captures Sam's inner soul beautifully; he really wins our sympathy, then terrifies us with his mentally unstable reactions to everything around him. And as we get to know him, the reactions of the actors around him begin to come into focus--at first everyone seems dismissive and rude, but we begin to understand that they've been through all this before. Only this time they haven't a clue where it's leading.

And neither do we. I'd never heard this story, so I had no idea how it would end--besides the fact he wouldn't actually succeed in his seriously unnerving plan! Mueller directs the film with a gentle, loping rhythm that really captures this simple man's life as well as the period. This is not a thriller; it's a drama about one man losing the ability to cope with the everyday horrors of modern society. The ghost of President Nixon intriguingly haunts the film from ubiquitous TV screens covering the Watergate hearings. Sam is simply trying to cure the cancer in the system. And the parallels with today are so striking that the film is utterly unforgettable.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 1.Dec.04

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... The Assassination of Richard Nixon Richard, Canada: 5/5 "though naomi watts had only a small part in the film, her support was strong & memorable, and as we all know, she is one of the most beautiful and talented actress working today." (1.Feb.05)

Wendy, Netherlands: 4/5 "I was impressed by Sean Penn, what a great actor! I saw how he loses his grip of reality and could almost feel his dispair." (15.Mar.05)

2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall