Oliver Stone’s overheated psycho-bio gets a lot more right than it gets wrong, especially with its stormy Citizen Kane histrionics; Richard Nixon brought his own rain clouds. Atop it all is Anthony Hopkins’s Lon Chaney–esque transformation into the nation’s alpha loser, uneasy in his own skin, even surprised by his wife’s appearance in his bedroom (“Buddy…what are you doing here?”). The deep supporting cast shares this playfully campy vibe, with Paul Sorvino’s Kissinger and Bob Hoskins’s J. Edgar Hoover a pair of tart, testy standouts. John Williams’s subtly discordant score wraps everything in a voluptuous tension, resulting in a film so serious, it’s fairly ridiculous.
For many, that won’t equal a rave. (Nixonphiles already know to add a star.) But you might roll with this fun movie anyhow. Honestly, it’s only Stone’s sense of ideological hauteur that runs the project aground; his notion of irony is having Nixon take off from Dallas’s Love Field just as John F. Kennedy is due to land. Too often, characters are standing off to the side and commenting sagely (“Can you imagine what this man would be like had anyone ever loved him?”). And Nixon was a much more brilliant political operator than the panicky stumbler we see here. But for sprawling, trashy pop history, Nixon is tops—and the conspiracist director’s most personal achievement. The film looks better than ever in a bright anamorphic transfer; a new doc by Stone’s son, Sean, about Nixon’s legacy, adds little to the package.