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‘Nixon’ Lures Viewers With Array Of Oliver Stone Film Techniques

Oliver Stone doesn’t belong to the big-bucks club of movie directors. Instead, he belongs to the fraternal order of issues-oriented, Oscar-winning filmmakers. Which, it’s true, has its own rewards - even if it is held in far less regard by the folks who make Hollywood work.

Think Stone’s Oscars (Best Director for “Platoon” and “Born on the Fourth of July,” Best Adapted Screenplay for “Midnight Express”) are a guarantee that he can do anything he wants?

Then answer this: Why is Alan Parker, not Stone, directing the film version of “Evita”?

No, the lure of an Oliver Stone film is not the money it’s likely to make (minuscule in comparison to most things directed by, say, Joel Schumacher - who has made John Grisham books and “Batman” comedy-thrillers his own personal playgrounds).

The lure of a Stone film involves its outrageousness (“Natural Born Killers”), its sheer film wizardry (“Talk Radio”), its controversial historical revisionism (“JFK”) and its setup for superb acting.

Think of Tom Cruise on “Born on the Fourth of July” (Cruise’s only Oscar nomination). Think of Kevin Costner in “JFK.” Think of Michael Douglas in “Wall Street.”

Think of Anthony Hopkins in “Nixon.”

Actually, “Nixon” - which is now on video shelves - is in many ways the model Oliver Stone movie. In addition to its outrageous sequences (that scene at the Lincoln Memorial is very close to being over the top), its typical Stone camera tricks (quick cuts, black-and-white flashbacks, etc.) and its reworking of the whole Nixon history (“Mrs. Nixon is finished!”), we have the proper English gentleman Hopkins standing out as the disgraced former American president.

Hopkins, you’ll recall, drew some critical barbs for his interpretation. For one thing, he doesn’t look anything at all like Dick Nixon. (Then again, who does - or, for that matter, ever has?) For another, his accent seemed to waver.

But none of that really seems to matter much. After getting used to what Hopkins brings to the role, it’s easy to just sit back and enjoy watching him do what he does best - portray a man in the grip of insecurities that are slowly, painfully, tearing him apart.

Considering the relative care that he took to make a serious film, there’s not much more Stone could have done to attract a larger, ticket-paying audience.

Aside, of course, from adding a couple of tornadoes or having Checkers be kidnapped by aliens.

Nixon ****

The surprise here is not that Oliver Stone would do a film about the only American president to resign in disgrace, but that he would come up with a film that ends up being so compassionate toward its principal subject. Stone, an admitted admirer of John F. Kennedy, fills in the blanks between the more memorable moments of Richard Nixon’s life - the “Checkers” speech, the California gubernatorial loss in 1962, the bombing of Cambodia, the farewell speech - with guesses, projections and outright fantasies. This we expect him to do. But Stone also carries us through the expresident’s life as only he knows how to, half the time pulling us by our collective shirt collars. Anthony Hopkins looks nothing like RMN, but after the first 15 minutes you’re not apt to care. He captures the essence of the real man, whose own inner demons wouldn’t let him appreciate, much less hold on to, the rewards he worked all his life to get. This is a performance so brave it’s scary to watch. Rated R

12 Monkeys ***

Terry Gilliam’s imaginative sense takes him a long way, even when his movies fail to present anything new in terms of plot. That’s the case here as Bruce Willis stars as a man from the 21st century who returns first to 1990 and then to 1996 to discover the source of a viral plague that has decimated humankind. Madeleine Stowe is the psychiatrist who takes him as a patient and who ends up believing his incredible story, and Brad Pitt portrays a demented-but-conniving animal-rights activist. The acting is uniformly good, especially Willis recalling the soulful effect of 20th-century music, and the sets are pure Gilliam (a rotating attachment of multiple video screens, futuristic prisons in which inmates are treated like farm stock, etc.). It’s the story that falls short, offering only a halfbaked representation of time and space and all things unchangeably regretful. Rated R

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