The Assassination of Richard Nixon

The Assassination of Richard Nixon (2005)
New Line Home Entertainment
Cast: Sean Penn, Don Cheadle, Naomi Watts

If you watch "The Assassination of Richard Nixon" and expect a polit-thriller this is not the movie for you. Instead it is a character drama about an everyday man who is brought to the breaking point by his surroundings and our culture as a whole. What I found most chilling about the film is that it is so very true. How many times have you felt completely powerless at the hands of corporations, lawyers, bureaucracy and our government. How many times were you expected to break your ethics and morals just to get a job done, to give in to peer pressure or to make sure you’re at the very least given a fair chance to compete or succeed? This is what "The Assassination of Richard Nixon" is all about. The fact that our society is rewarding liars and cheats, allowing bullies to succeed who do no care about how they get to the top as long as they get there. Welcome to our everyday lives.

Sam Bicke is a bit of a failure. Unable to hold a steady job he also loses the affection of his wife and three children and desperately struggles to bring his life back on track. He takes on a job as a furniture salesman and seems to do pretty well until his boss tries to mold him. Lying to the customer is the lesson he essentially tries to teach Sam in order to get into their wallets, no matter unethical. Everywhere he turns Sam sees crooks and cheats, culminating in president Richard Nixon who had been lying to the people for years. He tries to start his own business but his small business loan is being denied because his partner is black, further adding to Sam’s frustration. The pressure rises and Sam feels that he has to do something. Unfortunately he comes out of balance and begins to tend towards a very violent solution when he decides to hijack an airplane and fly it straight into the White House in order to kill Richard Nixon and open the eyes of the world.

Sean Penn is giving an utterly stunning performance as Sam Bicke. Not a bad guy per se, the system is bringing him to the breaking point until he completely snaps. Based on true events, I cannot condone Bicke’s actions, of course, but it is easy to see how the frustration mounts as we all have faced similar situations before. We only dealt with them differently.
Penn’s remarkable performance is nicely complemented by a capable supporting cast that includes Don Cheadle as Bicke’s closest friend and Naomi Watts as his estranged wife.

New Line Home Entertainment is presenting "The Assassination of Richard Nixon" in its original 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> presentation on this DVD. The image is clean and clear and without grain or speckles. Colors are strong and vibrant but never over-saturated. Solid black levels add good depth and contrast to the picture adding to the increasing sense of abyss that Sam is falling into. No edge-enhancement or compression artifacts are visible.

The audio on the release is a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> track that is engaging, though not overly aggressive. The subject matter simply doesn’t allow for that, keeping the audio restrained at all times. The natural frequency response and good dynamic range further help to render a soundfield that is always pleasing and natural-sounding. Dialogues are well integrated and always understandable. Optional subtitles are provided in English and Spanish.

The DVD does not contain any extras, unfortunately. It would have been great to learn a bit more about the real Sam Bicke and his mad drive into desperation and to get an idea how much of the film is based on true events and how much artistic license has been taken. Considering that the DVD has a comparably high $27.95 price point, I think viewers could have expected a bit more in this department.

This shortcoming notwithstanding, "The Assassination of Richard Nixon" is a powerful drama that oftentimes rings up events that are all too familiar. Sean Penn’s performance is definitely worth seeing and the superb plotting of the film makes this a DVD you might want to add to your shopping list.