The Assassination of Richard Nixon (15)

Written by Niels Mueller and Kevin Kennedy, Directed by Niels Mueller
Screening at FACT from 8th-21st April 2005

Reviewed by Adam Ford

Most people’s reaction to this title has been the same. No, Nixon was never actually assassinated; he was forced from office after his corruption was uncovered and it threatened some of the powers behind the throne. So this is a startlingly brave character assassination - not of his would-be assassin Samuel Bicke - but of Nixon and all that he represented. Many in Hollywood have raised the spectre of 9/11 to attack the film, and tried to make out that Bicke was just another ‘evildoer’ in that self-serving, black and white way they do, but the issues are far more complicated than that. Indeed, many will leave the cinema sympathising with a man who tried to hijack a plane and crash it into the White House.

Controversially, Samuel Bicke is portrayed as an essentially decent man who cared deeply about his family and wanted to do good in the world. Unfortunately, he found that he couldn’t support his estranged wife and children whilst living the lie that his life as a salesman demanded. Desperate, he began a slow and tragic disintegration that saw him reach horrible levels of loneliness and isolation. “But that’s how they want you”, Bicke advises us.

Sean Penn lives, breathes and feels every word as this most unlikely of screen heroes, and revisits the on-screen chemistry with Naomi Watts that was seen in 21 Grams. This is Niels Mueller’s first major picture, and he shows unbelievably mouth-watering promise in this incisive dissection of the American nightmare. This is without doubt the best new film I’ve seen in over a year, and probably the most politically radical film to come out of the United States for decades. Penn’s acting is strongly reminiscent of De Niro’s Travis Bickle, but The Assassination far surpasses Taxi Driver in its integrity, scripting and philosophical strength. It deserves all the success in the world, but then as Bicke would have told as, success rarely goes to the truly deserving.