The Assassination of Richard Nixon is not the feel-good movie of the year.
Based on true events, this film tells the story of Sam Bicke, a down-and-out middle-aged white American who fails at finding the American Dream. Bicke (Sean Penn) is unable to succeed as a salesman, his marriage has fallen apart, and all of his attempts to be an honest and good person prove futile. Bicke becomes disillusioned with the dishonesty of 1970s America, and to redress this dishonesty, he resolves to kill Richard Nixon.
However, it is not clear whether Bicke’s problems are caused by the state of 1970s America, or by his own social ineptness. This film deals with some very controversial issues -including an attempt to hijack a plane and crash it into the White House – but it comes to no conclusions, political or otherwise. The only thing holding the film together is Penn’s somewhat interesting performance.
The film is narrated from Sam Bicke’s perspective. Bicke is a lonely man, so almost every scene focuses on Penn alone. Penn is good at playing desperate male figures, but his character in The Assassination of Richard Nixon is not nearly as interesting as his characters in Mystic River or 21 Grams. There is not a whole lot to make viewers identify or sympathize with Bicke. The whole film is characterized by scenes where Bicke might-just might-have figured out how to assert himself, but he is always beat back down a few minutes later. And unfortunately, Bicke’s struggles are only just interesting enough to keep viewers from leaving the theater.
Since Richard Nixon was never assassinated, the ending of this film is going to be obvious to everyone: Bicke attempts to kill Nixon and fails. Bicke is incompetent at everything else, so why should he be able to successfully assassinate a president?
Although this film does not seem to be driven by its political statement, its release date is suspect. The film is highly critical of Nixon, and although it was originally released on Dec. 29, it began playing at The Ritz at The Bourse on Jan. 21, the day after the inauguration of another very unpopular president.
Daniel J. Kristie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org