Movies By Request

The Assassination of Richard Nixon

Year: 2004
Directed By: Niels Mueller
Written By: Niels Mueller and Kevin Kennedy


I despise Sean Penn to the point that I specifically avoid seeing any film that he is in but when one of my co-workers brought this one in I decided to make an exception.  It was an exception I am glad that I made and I unfortunately have to admit that Sean Penn really is as talented as everyone says.  I’m not sure what it is about him but I just can’t stand him. Until now the only film I have ever been able to stomach him in was one of his first films, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. This film is a good forum to showcase his talents though because his performance is the center of the film and he plays the part very well.

I think one of the scariest realities of life is how sometimes we are all subject to the insanity of others.  The people murdered by Samuel Byck had nothing to do with him or with the President he was actually trying to kill.    Richard Nixon didn’t have anything to do with Samuel Byck either but when life became too difficult for him the President became the center of his fixation and his insanity. I did extensive research on Lee Harvey Oswald while I was in college and I was immediately reminded of it when we started watching this movie.  There are many similarities to be seen between the two men but the most striking is the nature of their insanity.  They have certain opinions about how things are supposed to be but they themselves don’t even conform to them. Sam for example quits one job because they “forced him to lie”(actually just doing the job of a salesman) yet lied about being married to get his next job. These men have nothing and no one but for some reason they think they are the ones who have everything figured out.  When they become overwhelmed by the realities of life and how things are going they think they can fix everything by taking out the guy they perceive to be in control of it all.  That guy isn’t in control of everything despite his position as the figure head of the country and these men never understand that.  There is always another politician standing in line to take the job and he isn’t going to change anything either.

This movie chronicles the events leading up until Samuel Byck’s (Biche in the film) attempt to hijack a plane to fly into the White House and kill President Richard Nixon.  In the months before the attempt we see his decent into madness and desperation. He has trouble at work and a failed marriage that he is unable to accept when it is over. He also has big plans for a new business that he is certain will solve all his problems but they fall through after he quits his job. I don’t know how accurate the events leading up until the attempted hijacking are but the hijacking in itself happened exactly the way it is portrayed from what I was able to find out. Byck’s plan was fruitless in real life not only because he wasn’t really prepared for what he was doing but because the President wasn’t even in the White House on the day of the attempt. The movie starts off slow and seems a bit overly dramatic at times but I found myself compelled to keep watching and unable to look away.  This is the kind of movie that I can tell will get better with each viewing and offers a lot to learn about human nature and what desperation can do to some people.

As much as it pains me to admit, Sean Penn is fantastic in this movie and I have to accept how talented he is.  He single handedly carries this film on his own and it is his performance that kept me glued to the screen for the whole 95 minutes. I think this was a great movie and I can already tell I will be thinking about it for days to come.  I enjoy a good movie about a true story but keep in mind what I always say; no film is ever an actual accurate representation of real events. For example this film was originally intended to be a completely fictional story until producers realized that it was so similar to something that actually happened. This film did an exceedingly good job of converting the story to parallel the real events however and I would recommend it to anyone.

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