The Assassination of Richard Nixon

A Film Review By Jason L. King

Rating:Rated R for language and a scene of graphic violence. 
Starring:Sean Penn, Don Cheadle 
Directed By:Niels Mueller 

Final Grade: 

After working at the varsity long enough over the last few months, I have heard 7 out of every 10 people that look at the poster for this film say, “But I didn’t think Richard Nixon was assassinated.” Good news history buffs! He wasn’t! The title of this film is a bit deceiving. So don’t go home worried that you missed the day in history class where they told the story of another assassinated president. Instead this film called the Assassination of Richard Nixon tells the tale of one of the most ridiculous assassination attempts that is hardly ever told.

Based on the real life story of Samuel Bycke, who attempted to hijack a plane with plots to crash it into the White House, Academy Award Winner Sean Penn recreates the tale of this madman. Penn plays Sam, a man whose life is crumbling around him. Sam is opinionated and finds that his opinions make his life miserable. Although Sam doesn’t see it this way, his antics have messed up his previous jobs, his marriage and his current career as a salesman As Sam unravels he begins to blame his troubles on the government’s control on its nations inhabitants. Vowing to make a difference Sam eventually begins to formulate a plot to hijack a plane and crash it into the White House, proving to everyone even the littlest of people in the world can change history forever.

What makes this story so interesting is that it is based off a true story. When September 11th came about many people talked of how few had thought of using a commercial airplane as a terrorist weapon. Shocking enough, most people didn’t remember that years ago a man by the name of Sam Bycke had already attempted the feat, but didn’t succeed. In fact, Bycke really failed pretty miserably. He didn’t even get off the ground. He actually was gunned down shortly after getting onboard.

This film tries to recreate the story of Bycke and what lead up to his failed plot by showing how his broken home and relationships were all due to what he thought was government control. However, the plot just drones on as a slow driven character study that doesn’t have any real point other than the anti-climatic “Nutbar being killed” scene. At no point did I ever think that Bycke was going to actually succeed in his plans and I spent most of the time wondering why some people didn’t just stop him for a second and say, “Sam, you’re F___king Nuts!” I think I would have despite my fears of him going postal on me.

Sean Penn does a great job in the role, but it just doesn’t really compare to his Oscar Performance Last year in Mystic River. This film feels far to Bland and Penn really doesn’t bring a lot of spice to the flick. You could easily say Penn plays “crazy” pretty well, but it’s nothing to write home about.

I think what I really didn’t like about this film is it borrowed heavily the idealism from “Taxi Driver.” Just like DeNiro in the 1976 film, Sam also has the same deranged views that eventually pushed DeNiro’s character over the edge. In Both films we find characters whom when we first meet them they are slightly deranged, but as their lives evolve they both psychologically decay until they finally snap. Both stories have subplots of political gains, a scene where the main character winds up in a political campaign head quarters and very similar female figures. All in all The Assassination of Richard Nixon almost feels like a middle class remake of Taxi Driver. If you still aren’t biting on this theory, it just so happens that the Writers/Directors changed the spelling of the real Sam Bycke to “Bicke” in the film. Some of you may remember that the character in Taxi Driver was Travis Bickle. Coincidence? I really don’t think so!

In the end, this film is just there. Penn does a decent job, and the film is ok, but it is easily forgettable. When you pretty much remake Taxi Driver for the middle class, it dulls the material. Sure the Elements are there to make Sam Nuts, but it doesn’t feel as real as Taxi Driver did. The characters in this film are too bland, too boring and like I stated earlier as an audience member you never really expect anything to actually go Sam’s way. Never once do you think Sam might get away with his plan, never once do you think that Sam is sane enough to carry out this plot, which makes it hard to stick it out. I wanted to enjoy this flick but I can’t give it a good grade on a solid at best performance by Penn. All in all, save your money, you aren’t really missing much. 

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