The Assassination of Richard Nixon review

:. Director: Niels Mueller
:. Starring: Sean Penn, Don Cheadle
:. Running Time: 1:41
:. Year: 2004
:. Country: USA


A piece of the American nightmare. For his first full-length film, Niels Mueller strikes precisely and hard. Behind the portrait of an ordinary loser who, due to humiliations and disappointments, decides to hijack a plane and crash it into the White House, The Assassination of Richard Nixon delivers a harsh and cruel vision of American society, carried from beginning to end by the masterful Sean Penn.

February 1974: Watergate is getting ready to crash on President Nixon. A man shaves in his car. Close shots on a revolver, a briefcase, and some envelopes; he hides a gun in an artificial limb and heads towards the airport. In a voice-over, he addresses orchestra leader Leonard Bernstein, to whom he tells his story, which is recorded on tapes. Flashback to one year earlier. Sam Bicke has just found a job as an office furniture salesman. He splits his life between his work, his impromptu and awkward visits to his wife (from whom he is separated but would like to reconquer), and Bonny, a mechanic with whom he dreams of starting his own business.

At the moment where the film opens on Sam Bicke's confession, one finds him at the end of a slow but inescapable process of destruction in which he will do his utmost to detail all the stages. At this last stage of his miserable course, Sam Bicke shows himself as determined, thoughtful, critical and lucid. Even terrifying, since he builds a speech aimed at showing that a grain of sand (sic), i.e. less than nothing, someone anonymous, can exist in the space of a few minutes in the eyes of the world, while attacking the most powerful man in the country. Sam Bicke doesn't come to foment such a project gratuitously.

All of Mueller's film delivers the elements that make this ordinary man a potential assassin. Moreover, he is found one year earlier showing a total lack of self-confidence, the opposite of a solitary terrorist. All the areas of his life help to wipe out his chances and his will to succeed. His wife, indifferent, distant, deprived of compassion, keeps him at a distance to rebuild a family with another; his brother only shows him contempt and treats him like a liar and a swindler, whereas the television news strives to show a Nixon driven to the edge and forced, just like him, to constantly justify himself.

The parallel between Sam and the president functions like a game of mirrors. The ordinary citizen, who aspires only to a better life that the American dream can offer, identifies with the most important personality of the United States. Moreover, Sam's boss compares his job to what Nixon exerts (re-elected into 1972 thanks to the same campaign promises of the previous campaign that he did not even keep), in which success (selling his merchandise) necessarily passes through a lie, in one of these many restaurant scenes which are transformed into interrogation or humiliation sessions. In the same way, this average employee who dreams of liberating himself from his modern chains knows that he can only exist with a name. Just like his brother Julius, a garage owner, he will only receive recognition by launching his own business. The subtlety of the script pushes irony even in his name, in a scene where his associate's son calls him "Uncle Sam". In the space of one innocent moment, he bears the same name as the nation.

And yet Sam never manages to convince his public (his associate, brother, boss, wife, himself) : constantly posing, all while trying to maintain a part of his integrity, on his face he keeps the image of a loser. Witness the scene where in front of his mirror he unconvincingly tries to introduce himself : « Hi, I'm Sam Bicke ». Even he doesn't really believe it, notably when he presents himself as a confident businessman in front of a banker whom he asks for a loan, or when he assures his wife that he is in control of his own life. It's a question of faith in The Assassination of Richard Nixon.

Those who represent power define themselves by their aptitude for deceiving their world (Sam's boss, Nixon, the banker) and those who advocate for truth remain on the sidelines. As if solitude were the corollary to sincerity. Even in regards to an oppresed group like the Black Panthers, Sam bangs against a wall of incomprehension, making himself look ridiculous. Redemption can only come from himself. The film doesn't tell anything other than the story of a man who doesn't know how to find and play his own role in a society that has no pity for the mediocre or the weak, despite hope and will. A man who just wanted to exist, but didn't know how to resist.

  Moland Fengkov
  Translated into English by Anji Milanovic

     Movie Reviews: 1998 - 2011
     Movie Reviews: 2012 - present

  .: AFI Fest
  .: Cannes Festival
  .: COL COA
  .: LA Film Festival
  .: LA Latino Festival
  .: more Festivals
  .: Cult Classic
  .: Foreign
  .: U.S. Underground
  .: Musical Films
  .: Controversial Films
  .: Silent Films
  .: Spaghetti Westerns
  .: Erotica
  .: Download Movies
  .: Movie Rentals
  .: Movie Trailer
| About Plume Noire | Contacts | Advertising | Submit for review | Help Wanted! | Privacy Policy | Questions/Comments |
| Work in Hollywood | Plume Noire en français [in French] |