“I dream of failure every night of my life, and that is my secret.”
Philip Baker Hall is eruptive, paranoid, and supremely broken in this incredible one man show. A conspirator’s history that paints Nixon as a pawn, and that pawn as a tragedy.
Avoiding the staginess that seems built into the material (it was originally a one man play), director Robert Altman justifies his experiment as a cinematic venture with panache and the ingenious use of a simple device – the closed-circuit television monitors placed in the room, always doubling the man, always watching him watching himself.
The way Altman’s camera glides over everything, in this Bunuel-esque curiosity . . . It gives this hint of this alien presence watching objectively. The monitors then take that idea, push it to the extreme and create this high distinction between the subjectivity of the monologue – the pain and tragedy of it that we get highlighted by the gentle camera – and the objective, terrible paranoia provided by the monitors.
This Nixon is a man desperately holding onto his own delusions as the last vestiges of his sanity. He is the 1% who needs to believe himself the underdog to justify his existence, needs to understand himself as someone worthy of sympathy . . . but he can’t do it, not really, you see it in his eyes that he sees a villain in his heart – and that, in the end, is what makes him truly human. That is what makes him truly tragic and alive and worthy of some form of admiration. He wants to be good, and, in its own way, that is just as admirable as being good itself.
“You know, I really did want to grow up to be Abraham Lincoln.”