Sunday, January 20, 2008

THE HOLLYWOOD VERSION. Via Memeorandum, I see Oliver Stone wants to do a George W. Bush biopic. Roger L. Simon and Libertas have already started snarling.

I am intrigued. Stone's Nixon is a muddle, but a pleasurable one, and certainly not a hit job -- in fact, it's Stone's quixotic attempt to humanize Nixon that makes it both confused and interesting. Stone could never concede that Nixon was just a monster of ordinary ambition; he scours his biography for insecurities that might explain him ("I kept thinking of my old man tonight -- he was a failure, too"), even inventing troubled relationships with his wife and mother to show the depth of his existential loneliness. These Freudian interludes clash badly with the massive historical events to which Stone absurdly gave equal weight: Nixon goes to China, Nixon goes to Russia, Nixon goes to Hell.

At times the ill-fitting gears mesh to lovely effect, as when young Nixon attends his mother's admonition to seek "strength in this life, happiness in the next," and the camera sweeps skyward and then down upon a thoughtful Nixon waiting to take the Republican Convention stage in 1968. But the real Nixon, or even a poetic equivalent, remains as elusive as Nixon's dialect in the mouth of Anthony Hopkins. The real hero of Nixon isn't Nixon but Stone, the adrenaline-addled Vietnam volunteer seeking to justify his psychedelic patriotism even amidst ample, excellent cases for abandoning it. His sentimental inability to see Tricky Dick plain provides its own fascinating spectacle of wishful thinking, which reverberates through the eulogies Bob Dole and the ex-Presidents yammer during the end credits.

How could I not be eager to see what Stone will make, ten years later, of Dubya and his exceedingly strange family (and please God let James Cromwell play Poppy)? We'll see then if even Stone's forgiveness has its limits.

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