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The Assassination of Richard Nixon (2004)
Rated R

Starring: Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, and Don Cheadle

Rating:
***
out of
*****

Samuel Bicke (Sean Penn) is a frustrated man. He and his wife (Naomi Watts) are separated. His current job -- as an office furniture salesman -- is not going well. His relationship with his brother and former business partner, Julius (Michael Wincott), is non-existant. His self-esteem is gone. Samuel Bicke is a defeated man. Driven to desperation, Bicke begins a journey of self-destruction that will pit him against the forces he feels conspire against him.

The Assassination of Richard Nixon is based on the true story of Samuel Byck, who plotted to kill President Richard Nixon in 1974. While the name of the character is slightly altered, the events as presented in the film have been significantly changed to make the character much more sympathetic.

I viewed this film shortly after the 2004 Presidential Election. Samuel Bicke, as portrayed in the film, could be anyone who feels he has no say in what his government does or how he's treated in the world. It is interesting to compare Bicke's frustrated 1974 point-of-view to that of so many people in the world of today. I'm sure that's one of the points this film intends to make. However, by making Bicke so sympathetic and then subjecting him to the events of the film, are screenwriter Kevin Kennedy and co-writer/director Niels Mueller saying that to feel powerless is equal to being destroyed by the machinery of the world? Or are they trying to get people motivated to do something about the state of the world we live in now?

Sean Penn's performance is the best thing about The Assassination of Richard Nixon. If I had to describe his acting in one word, it would be "intense". His frequent frustrated outbursts feel completely justified and it's very easy to root for Bicke. Penn is supported quite ably by Naomi Watts, Jack Thompson (as his boss) and Don Cheadle, all of whom excel in their small but effective roles. Essentially, though, this is Sean Penn's show as he is on-screen in virtually every scene.

The Assassination of Richard Nixon has a point to make but the message gets lost in the trainwreck that is the film's final few minutes. If you skip it, though, you'll be missing the performance of a possible Oscar nominee. So, see it with the knowledge that it's not exactly a great movie but definitely one you'll be thinking about for days after you leave the theater.

Trivia: Director and co-writer Niels Mueller also co-wrote Tadpole. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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