The original three-hour-plus cut of Oliver Stone's Nixon had its share of problems, but excessive brevity wasn't among them. So it seems sadistic that the front cover of the new, two-disc "Election Year Edition" director's cut boasts that 28 more minutes have been added onto an already-bloated film. With that wholly unnecessary new material, Nixon has devolved from overlong to interminable.
Attacking Nixon's tortured psyche and legacy with the same flair for subtlety he brought to his screenplay for Scarface, Stone casts Anthony Hopkins as the disgraced president, a man of humble origins who rose to the pinnacle of political power, only to be undone by his demons. He's ably abetted by Joan Allen as Nixon's birdlike yet deceptively strong wife Pat, as well as just about every great character actor in existence, chief among them Bob Hoskins as a bulldoggish J. Edgar Hoover; Sam Waterston as a haughty, imperial CIA kingpin; Ed Harris' shark-like E. Howard Hunt; and Powers Boothe's coldly Machiavellian Alexander Haig.
Using the overwrought stylistic techniques Stone has beaten into the ground for the last two decades, Nixon leaps madly across the timeline, opening with Watergate, jumping back to Nixon's signature triumphs and defeats, and artlessly unpacking reams of clumsy exposition via constant news reports. Though affecting in its few quiet moments, Nixon veers regularly into camp. The frenzied cutting suggests an unintentional parody of avant-garde. It's a gothic political horror movie of sorts, historical Grand Guignol in which Mao Tse-tung is shot like a silent-movie villain, the White House portrait of Abraham Lincoln looks vaguely satanic, and a ghostly vision of Nixon's dead mother (Mary Steenburgen) pops up during a moment of crisis like old Mother Bates. While Hopkins looks and sounds little like the man he's portraying, he's a respectable addition to the overflowing canon of cinematic Nixons. But his performance pales in comparison to that of Philip Baker Hall's definitive Nixon in Robert Altman's 1984 masterpiece Secret Honor, a film that said 10 times as much about its subject as Stone's film, in well under half the time.
Key features: For masochists, there two separate Oliver Stone audio commentaries, deleted scenes (really?), and a new documentary from Stone's son Sean.