| The Red Right Hand
THE ASSASSINATION OF RICHARD NIXON
Late February 1974, composer Leonard Bernstein received 4 large brown envelopes through the post. Each contained a tape from Sam Byck pleading him to justify what he was going to do. To tell the world 'My name is Sam Byck. I was here.' This incident is the basis for Niels Mueller's directorial debut, The Assassination Of Richard Nixon. The film opens on a flash-back sequence. We see Sam (his surname was changed for this film) Bicke [Penn] sitting in his car, shaving. As he steps out he attaches a leg brace and makes his way across a parking-lot roof at Baltimore, Washington airport. We then cut back to two weeks prior to see Sam pacing around his apartment in a dressing gown looking dishevelled and unkempt, recording his final tape to Bernstein.
Another cut, now going back one year. Sam works as an office furniture salesman for a seemingly unscrupulous (one could say your average salesman) man, Jack Jones [Thompson]. You begin to see that Sam isn't a very strong willed man nor is he socially competent, his boss also sees this in him and exploits it by manipulating Sam, making him feel insignificant. Having left work Sam passes by a tire company, waits for a man to leave -by sliding down in his car seat, so as not to be seen- then walks in, greets a large guy in overalls, then hands him an envelope containing what he owes his brother. We then follow Sam as he meets with Bonnie [Cheadle], whom he lies to about how he's performing at work, showing him a printed business card, boasting that they've printed one thousand of them. Sam then drives over to a house in the suburbs, opens the gate and affectionately greets his daughters. As he sees them inside, Marie [Watts] stops him at the doorway. They talk briefly before Marie tells Sam that he should call in advance as opposed to just showing up on her doorstep, at this point it becomes clear they're either divorced or separated. In a rather incommodious manner, Sam attempts to hug and kiss Marie goodbye then in one of the most painful moments in the film (to me at least) he walks over to the dog and as he kneels down to stroke him he says, "You missed Daddy, didn't you? You love me, right?" The dog just seems indifferent.
Once Sam leaves Marie's all the main characters -bar one- have been introduced, each one playing their part in the orchestration of Sam's descent into madness. Later that day Sam joins the boss and his son in a member's club/bar for a drink. They congratulate him on his efforts, then hand over two books and a set of tapes (The Power Of Positive Thinking & How To Win Friends And Influence People). Then Jack points out that Nixon is a great salesman, explaining how he sold the nation on the promise to end the Vietnam war which he failed to do, then came back with the exact same promise and they bought it again. Nixon is the final character to send Sam over the edge. Over the next hour we see Sam's life slowly come apart at the seams. The business he's trying to set up with Bonnie is delayed for so long by the bank, his wife keeps trying to push home the message that it's over between them and he finally gets fired from his job because he feels that he can't lie to people day in, day out. To top it off, he was so convinced that his 'mobile tire business' was going to get up on it's feet that he broke into his brother's tire store and changed the delivery address for an order. This leads to his brother, Julius (Michael Wincott), paying Sam a visit saying that he's washed his hands of him. I personally think Wincott is an extremely sharp actor that gets over-looked far too often.... just thought I'd throw that in there.
Following the downfall of his life Sam refuses to believe he's doing anything wrong by trying to live a decent honest life, so plans to fight the source of his troubles; his personification of corruption in America, the president, Richard Nixon. Scenes follow showing Sam watching TV, as the world is burning around him, one particular news report outlines how a young mechanic stole a helicopter and landed it on the front lawn of the White House. Sam then prepares to hijack a plane and crash it into the White House. Some may see this take as a controversial thing to show on film. They may say things along the lines of:
'Have you no respect? In light of all this country's been through?'
'This is too similar to 9/11'
'We, as a nation, no longer need to be tortured by having the fear of hijacking driven into our theaters'
....but that's America for you. No offence, but it's been almost 4 years since the World Trade Centre incident and although Bicke doesn't actually succeed -I genuinely feel I'm not giving any plot developments away, let's face it, we all know a plane has never crashed into the White House- it's not the same thing. It's my opinion that this film isn't about Marriage, Employee Rights, The Black Panthers or even Nixon, they are merely aspects of Bicke's growing obsessions. Overall, what we have here is a film that isn't trying to really say anything. It's not trying to apply itself to current issues, nor is it reflecting on the leadership skills of Nixon. This is exactly what Bicke wanted. He sent his recordings to Bernstein so that he would tell his tale, that he would justify what he was trying to do. Although the rather mystified Bernstein didn't do this, he simply handed the tapes over to the police, Mueller and Kennedy have tried and have managed to produce an astounding and thought-provoking film, which will undoubtedly receive plenty of acclaim and criticism.
8 April 2005
The Scene To Look Out For:
Sitting in Jack Jones' furniture sales/show-room Sam suddenly snaps, unable to hear his boss lying to yet another customer. He calmly gets up, walks over to the gentleman and explains that whatever he's asking for the company can do, then he walks over to the televisions and raises the volume. After his boss has a brief confrontation with him, he sees Nixon on TV defending himself against the Watergate allegations. Sam simply looses it and begins to scream, "It's all about money, Dick!" This is his view of how the American dream has become perverse, truly Penn at his finest.
Similarly to The Machinist, Penn is not only the main character but the driving force for this film and everything simply happens around him. Sean Penn pulls off some astonishing acting, displaying a quiet rage that's been eating away inside this man, then madness slowly takes over
"Slavery never really ended in this country. They just gave it another name. Employee."
In A Few Words:
"Provocative and absorbing"