The Assassination of Richard Nixon (review)

In 1974, a man named Sam Bicke hatched a plot to hijack an airplane and crash it into the White House, the occupant of which he saw as the cause of all his many failures as a man, and he actually got as far as killing the pilot of a plane on the tarmac in Baltimore before he was shot to death by police. This is not the true story of Sam Bicke — this is, instead, a “fictionalized dramatization,” which, it seems to me, translates as: Niels Mueller (who directed, and wrote the screenplay with Kevin Kennedy) had some messages to send about how contemporary life drives people crazy and thought hanging them on a story about a thwarted assassin would be a good way to do it. Unfortunately, Mueller forgot Samuel Goldwyn’s classic directive about the best way to send messages (via Western Union, not movies). Sure, Sean Penn (Mystic River) is intent and tenacious as Bicke, a worm of a man who’s a disaster at everything he touches, from ordinary, everyday social interactions to his marriage, from his sales job to his pathetic bid to start his own business. But Mueller’s exploration of Bicke’s motives is so anemic that the film — which, Mueller stresses has nothing to do with ‘Taxi Driver; do not dare to make such a comparison — ends up feeling like a bizarre apologetic for a man who refused to take any responsibility for himself or his own actions, a perfectly justifiable and understandable excuse for murder. Which is simply reprehensible.

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