Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Secret Honor (1984)

Wonderful, fascinating one-man-show with Philip Baker Hall as Richard Nixon as he confesses the motivations behind his political career, Watergate, and Vietnam. Robert Altman directs this bold, audacious project, which far surpasses films such as Oliver Stone's Nixon and Frost/Nixon in terms of intelligence, realism, and depth. Philip Baker Hall gives one of the best performances of his career with his uncanny portrayal of the former president; at times, the resemblance between the two is shocking. Beyond the typical shaggy dog vocal inclinations, he nails Nixon's behavioral and speech mannerisms, ranting and raving with stops, starts, and stutters that reveal his wounds caused by the wrong words constructing the wrong sentences to the wrong people. He waxes nostalgia, only to be repeatedly reminded of his flaws and missteps, as he drinks himself into a deep drunken stupor. He begins defends himself as a lawyer in an imagined trial, where he maintains that the trial that he was pardoned from would have alleviated much of the disdain he received from the American people. He puts the blame of his aggressive political stances on a Committee of 100, a group that influenced him in his youth to enter politics, and who allegedly used him to instate such proposed acts as a third term in '76; he claims that he, himself, created the Watergate scandal to avoid a more thorough investigation of his relationship with the Committee and their treasonous crimes. More than anything, and more than any other filmed material I have seen (including the real Frost/Nixon interviews), this film truly shows the humanity behind the almost universally hated figure; his emotional and mental scars at the hands of his upbringing haunted him for his whole life, and he, like everyone else, was a slave to his predispositions, and also his confusions and contradictions. If I have one complaint, is that the material can, at points, be a tad dry, but Hall's performance, along with the provocative material, keep the film fascinating for its running time all the way up to its strong, emotional ending.

Highly Recommended to those interested in the story of Richard Nixon, and fans of Philip Baker Hall or Robert Altman. This is a good non-biased portrait of the legendary man, and a very interesting character, performance, and theater piece at the same time.

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