The Assassination of Richard Nixon

Events portrayed in The Assassination of Richard Nixon are based on actual events, but the real reason to watch this film is to watch Sean Penn, who gives yet another masterful performance. In fact, the story element of Assassination is a bit lacking, since there isn't really much of a story to focus on. The movie consists of watching Penn (21 Grams, Mystic River), as Samuel Bicke, go through a slow burn in 1974. Some may call Bicke odd, but socially inept is probably more accurate. Penn creates a full character, using vocal intonations, body language, and other little tricks to convince the audience that he is Bicke. Bicke worked in office furniture sales, but dreamt of starting a tire delivery company with his friend Bonny Simmons (Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda, Ocean's Twelve). He was also trying to reconcile with his separated wife Marie (Naomi Watts, I [Heart] Huckabees, We Don't Live Here Anymore) and their three young children.

After watching Bicke for a short amount of time, it is clear he is off his rocker. At work, he is vehemently opposed to lying, even though as a salesman, he needs to bend the truth in order to make money. He adheres to a strict code of morals/ethics, and any deviations from it tend to fluster him to no end. He complains often to Bonny, who is remarkably patient, and to Marie, who is not. He stops by to visit an obviously uncomfortable Marie and their children, and acts almost like a stalker at times. Bicke cannot understand why people around him feel uncomfortable. He is stuck in his own little world, oblivious to all else around him. Bicke has his own twisted version of logic, which causes him to eventually plot for the murder of the President.

Penn is simply riveting on screen. His character is so strange that one will watch just to see what he does next, or how he reacts to ordinary, everyday situations. He is extremely paranoid of everybody around him, and refuses to believe statements most people would take as fact. When told that an application will take eight weeks to process, he returns continually to ask about its progress, and gets annoyed when the people are understandingly nervous around him. As his personal and "professional" life begins to fall apart around him, Bicke fails to realize that he is the one to blame. Instead, he tries to blame everybody else, and eventually settles on Nixon, whom his boss (Jack Johnson, Attack of the Clones, Original Sin), calls the world's greatest salesman. Writer/director Niels Mueller and co-writer Kevin Kennedy (Sam the Man) never try to explain who Bicke is or how he became that way, which is probably one of the reasons that Assassination is not better than it is. On these terms, there is little else in the film aside from Penn's performance. Oh, and for anybody who doesn't know, Richard Nixon was not assassinated.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 35 minutes, Rated R for language and a scene of graphic violence.

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