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 He gained the world, but lost a nation.

1995 biopic of the thirty-seventh President of the United States, directed by Oliver Stone and starring Anthony Hopkins as Richard Nixon. The film explores Nixon and his triumphs and his failings, culminating in his resignation of the office of the presidency in disgrace following the revelation of his abuse of office and executive privilege following the Watergate scandal.

It was the first movie Stone made following JFK, and like the earlier film -- an angry, searing and rabble-rousing examination of the assassination of John F Kennedy -- it drew a lot of controversy... but not necessarily for the reasons you'd expect. Unlike the earlier film, which was heavily presented as fact, this movie admits from the start it's based on 'an incomplete historical record' and is intended as less a hatchet job and more an attempt to understand who Nixon was and why he was compelled to act the way he did. As such, it earned critics from both sides; while supporters of Nixon (including his daughters) disowned it as inaccurate (in particular, it was argued that the depiction of Nixon and his wife's alcoholism and pill addiction was grossly exaggerated), some critics of Nixon argued that it wasn't harsh enough on the former president in that, while hardly downplaying his faults, it suggested that there was the potential (and even the realization) of greatness in the man.

The plot is largely non-linear, at least for the first half, and essentially involves Nixon flashing back through his past as he listens to his secret tape recordings as the Watergate scandal intensifies, the tapes triggering memories of his childhood, his unsuccessful campaign for president against John F Kennedy in 1960 and his wilderness years following an equally unsuccessful campaign for governor of California in 1962. The second half follows a more linear form, kicking off when Nixon is elected President in 1968, and follows his presidency through Vietnam, his groundbreaking visit to China and, of course, Watergate.


Nixon provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Although it's not labored on that much, it is suggested that Nixon and Pat Nixon have trouble controlling their booze.
  • All-Star Cast: Like most of Stone's movies, you've probably seen the entire cast in at least one thing.
  • As the Good Book Says...: The movie opens with Matthew 16:26 -- "For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Thanks to a trick of the light during filming or special effects, depending on who you believe, in a deleted scene where Nixon meets C.I.A Director Dick Helms, Helms' eyes at one point go completely black as Nixon is talking about evil -- specifically, the evil that the system that he and Helms represent has unleashed on the world. While Helms wasn't exactly a nice man, his estate perhaps not surprisingly objected to the implication that he was some kind of demon, and the scene was removed from the theatrical release (the director's cut restored it).
  • Call Back: In the scene where Nixon is leaving Dallas on November 22nd 1963, moments before President Kennedy is expected to arrive, the ominous drumbeat and footage of President and Mrs. Kennedy exiting Air Force One and embarking on the fateful motorcade is similar to Stone's earlier movie JFK.
  • Casting Gag: Larry Hagman turns up as a Texas oil billionaire.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Nixon is constantly dropping this. This is Truth in Television; Nixon was reportedly rather foul-mouthed in private.
    • Evidence of it is on the tapes.
  • Corrupt Politician
  • Fake Nationality: Welshman Anthony Hopkins as Nixon, Brit Bob Hoskins as J. Edgar Hoover, and Italian-American Paul Sorvino as German-born Henry Kissinger.
  • Foregone Conclusion: If you know your history.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: Lampshaded by Nixon at the beginning, but not an actual example for obvious reasons.

 Nixon: Hey Al? Men in your profession, you give 'em a pistol and then leave the room. I don't have a pistol, Al.

  • Mood Whiplash: A tense meeting between Nixon and John Dean in which Dean begins to suspect that Nixon is setting him up to be a scapegoat suddenly takes a turn for the comic when Nixon, escorting Dean out of the Oval Office, pulls the handle off the door, prompting a moment of awkwardness as the two remain trapped in the office.
  • Mononymous Biopic Title
  • My Beloved Smother: The portrayal of Hannah Nixon verges on this.
  • Orwellian Editor: Nixon becomes one of these in a scene where his aides are transcribing his secret recordings, in which he rants about the amount of swearing and less-than-politically correct statements he's made. As well as the obvious reasons of trying to present himself in the best possible light ("The world will see what I show them! From page one!"), it's also used to display how increasingly delusional he's becoming -- he frantically (and apparently sincerely) insists that he never said these things despite the fact that his own taping system has recorded him saying them.
  • Playing Against Type: Sam Waterston, best known for playing morally strong characters like Jack McCoy and Abraham Lincoln, as the sinister CIA director Dick Helms.
    • Although Jack McCoy has had his low moments.
  • Shout-Out: To Citizen Kane: the opening shot of the White House, ominously viewed through the metal fence during a storm, mirrors the reveal of Xanadu. As well as any number of horror films featuring a scene / opening with an ominous mansion.
    • Also from Citizen Kane: the nonlinear structure, use of a fake newsreel to give background on Nixon's life, and the tool of a mystery at the center of the subject's soul (Rosebud in Kane, the Watergate tapes in Nixon).
  • Tragic Hero: Played with in the character of Richard Nixon (emphasis on "tragic") in a way that it makes Nixon into a giant case of What Could Have Been. Lampshaded by Kissinger.

  Kissinger: "Can you imagine what he could have done if he had ever been loved?"

  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: While the movie is generally true to Nixon's life, certain aspects have been compressed, altered and played with for dramatic value. The movie, granted, admits this straight up.
  • Villain Protagonist: Arguably Nixon.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Depends on whether you view Nixon as a villain or not, but the last third of the movie basically features Nixon having a slow-burning one as he becomes increasingly delusional, frantic and paranoid as the Watergate crisis spirals out of control. After he finally signs his resignation letter and is alone with Henry Kissinger, he asks Kissinger to join him on his knees in prayer and essentially starts crying and babbling incoherently. According to Kissinger himself, this episode actually happened.
  • Who Shot JFK?: An undercurrent of the story. A central theme is Nixon's paranoia over "the whole Bay of Pigs thing" coming out again -- with "Bay of Pigs" heavily implied and speculated to be code about some knowledge or responsibility, real or imagined, Nixon believed he had about who actually killed Kennedy. In his tense meeting with the shadowy Texas businessmen and Cuban exiles in 1963 (the day before Kennedy arrived, let us noted), it's hinted that they have something to do with it.
    • Not quite JFK, but his later meeting with J. Edgar Hoover contains a hint that Hoover has some responsibility for Robert Kennedy's assassination ("They should shoot the son-of-a-bitch.")
      • Nixon's also claims the way was cleared for him by "three bodies", implied to be JFK, MLK and RFK.
      • Incorrect. Nixon says "four bodies" to his aid Bob Haldeman who thinks he mispoke and meant two (JFK and RFK). Nixon repeats "four", referring via flashback to his two dead brothers - if they had lived his family would never have had enough money to send Richard to law school and he never would have been a politician.
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