Based on a true story, The Assassination of Richard Nixon is a 95 minute story illustrating effectively Sam Bicke's (Penn) descent into insanity. In 1974, Sam Bicke hijacked a plane in order for it to be flown into the White House and therefore, killing the president whom at the time was Nixon. The film however concentrates primarily on the year leading up to this event; indeed it's only in the last moments of the movie that we witness the actual hijack.The movie is driven primarily by the correspondence that Bicke sends on to Leonard Bernstein, the composer. Bicke firmly believes that Bernstein is honest in his art and therefore he is the only person he can trust to tell his story. The tapes and letters he pens (no pun intended) act as the narration over the film and it is these pieces of correspondence that (apparently) was used to illustrate the story. We see that Bicke's world is one that slowly crumbles in front of us, from his marriage to Marie (Watts) almost over, to the fact that he can't be a salesman that lies openly, it shows that although he may never have had a full deck at the start of the tale, he had precious little hope in his life at the end of the story. The reason he chooses to kill Nixon is never truly explained, but you feel that he believes that Nixon is nothing more than a salesman, preaching to the masses, but like a typical salesman he is anything but honest and we are under no illusion that Bicke truly detests liars.Although I'm sure a little artistic license has been used in the making of this movie, it is a rather effective, powerful tale. It however is not the easiest movie in the world to watch, certainly not one for a Saturday night and a few drinks. The subject matter is handled deftly and at no point do we feel anything negative towards Bicke, in fact we have nothing but sympathy for him. His wife clearly wishes to distance herself from him, although the reasons why aren't elaborated on, yet Bicke still attempts so hard for a reconciliation. He reads all the self-help books that he is given by his boss to make him a better salesman, but his conscience clearly is at odds with this, as he'd rather be honest and make a sale instead of relying on lies and deceitful tactics. Credit where credit is due, it is one of Penn's best performances, although I believe his turn in “I Am Sam” is his best to date. He is very convincing in his performance and is always believable. Naomi Watts, last seen by myself in “The Ring 2”, definitely acquits herself better here then she did in that movie and although her scenes are few, she fare very well and holds her own against Penn. Don Cheadle is usual reliable self here and is excellent as Bicke's best friend. However, Michael Wincott does steal the one and only scene he is in opposite Penn and it's good to see him on the screen again! However this is Penn's movie and he is almost getting to the point where he will be mentioned in the same breath as Pacino and De Niro.
This is definitely an exceptional drama albeit a rather heavy going one, but as with others, with patience it reaps its own rewards.
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