The Assassination Of Richard Nixon Niels Mueller

In writer/director Niels Mueller's debut feature, we are afforded a glance into the incredibly small world of one Samuel J. Bicke (Sean Penn), an office furniture salesman and recent divorcee eking out his days in '70s Baltimore on an endless supply of ire and despondence. After a series of personal and professional failures, Bicke cobbles together a plan that involves flying a hijacked airliner flush into the White House, destroying all he believes is responsible for the ruin of the country he once loved. The Assassination of Richard Nixon is a biopic that eschews the regular trappings of its genre. It is a deft examination of a common American gone to seed and, thankfully, avoids the heaps and mounds of sentimentalism we've come to expect with this sort of picture. However, there are problems. Working with such a threadbare script, Penn often reaches into a veritable loot bag of twitches, blinking fits and sidelong ogles, as if to retrofit the many holes left by Mueller and co-writer Kevin Kennedy. The economy of dialogue, with particular consideration given to the overall isolation felt by Bicke, is an admirable experiment but, unfortunately, it also scoops out canyons of dead screen time. To his credit, Penn has moments of absolute beauty, most notably when he phones his estranged wife, Marie, played with steely conviction by Naomi Watts, in the middle of the night. Tricky Dick's omnipresence seems a bit forced, as does the script's willingness to link Bicke's iron cast code of ethics with even the faintest glint of governmental hypocrisy. It's not a hard task to empathise with Bicke's beliefs, but beyond that there isn't much else. His underpinnings are neon, not subdued in the slightest. And that's where the main tripwire lies: there is absolutely no mystery. The stable of incredibly talented actors do their best but can only scale so much broadness in one movie. Plus: commentary. (MGM)