The Assassination Of Richard Nixon

The Assassination Of Richard Nixon


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

This is not about Richard Nixon. It's about Sam Bicke (Sean Penn).

Some people in this life are destined for success. Others are doomed to failure. Sam fits into the latter category and he knows it.

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Being a loser upsets Sam because he believes he's worth more than that. He loves Marie (Naomi Watts), his estranged wife, and his two kids. He loves the family dog, too. He lives in a crummy apartment in a low rent district of town, while they live in the 'burbs in a proper house, with a front porch and a tree in the garden.

He's never been good at holding down a job, but now he has one, junior salesman at an office furniture outlet and he believes this is the way to go. Soon he'll have his debts sorted and Marie back and the bad times will be a distant memory.

There is one problem. He's a crap salesman. His boss (inspired performance from Jack Thompson) attempts to show him the ropes and give him advice on the dark arts of gentle persuasion, but Sam's lack of self-esteem, coupled with an innate fear of making mistakes, disempowers him to the point of breakdown.

The film starts near the end, goes back a couple of weeks and then a year, which feels like dramatic gimmickry so that director Niels Mueller can use a tape recording that Sam makes for the conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein, explaining his actions, as a voice-over narrative. It appears that his motive for flying to Washington to kill the President is to do something so audacious that he will be remembered and, therefore, become important in the mind of the nation.

The main body of the movie is watching Sam being humiliated at work, rejected by Marie, accused of theft by his brother (Michael Wincott) and patronised by his brother's employee (Don Cheadle). Unlike the rage that spurs Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, Sam's revolt lacks the energy and single-minded purpose of a true fanatic.

Being a loser is like dying by degrees. Mueller, with co-writer Kevin Kennedy, reflects this most accurately and Penn's performance runs contrary to anything he has done before. If you remember Bad Boys, State Of Grace and Mystic River, it would be difficult to imagine him playing such a vulnerable, ineffective role. That he does so with such conviction only reinforces his status as the finest actor of his generation.

Reviewed on: 09 Apr 2005
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A bad salesman with a broken marriage loses the plot and buys a gun.
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Read more The Assassination Of Richard Nixon reviews:

Steven Yates ***1/2

Director: Niels Mueller

Writer: Kevin Kennedy, Niels Mueller

Starring: Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Don Cheadle, Jack Thompson, Michael Wincott, Mykelti Williamson, Brad Hanke

Year: 2004

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US/Mexico


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