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Artwork copyright (c) 1995 Cinergi Pictures Entertainment; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



Superior drama score


Oliver Stone's Nixon is one of his best films.  Less controversial than JFK because less of it is conjecture (though some of it still is) and probably more satisfying, Anthony Hopkins electrifies as the troubled president, painting him as a man so hurt by dirty tricks played against him by his opponents and the media during his 1960 presidential battle with John Kennedy that he became a man possessed, terrified at the mere thought of losing and willing to do anything to avoid it happening.  He comes off as a surprisingly sympathetic, tragic figure, and (perhaps surprisingly) Stone makes no attempt to gloss over his achievements while in office and just concentrate on his infamous malaises.  Hopkins isn't the only one who impresses in the cast - there are fine turns from the superb supporting players, ranging from everyone from Joan Allen to Larry Hagman, Bob Hoskins to Mary Steenburgen.  Nixon marked the third (and, so far, final) collaboration between Stone and composer John Williams.  All three are world-class scores but, by necessity, this time it is a markedly different piece of work.  The first two (Born on the Fourth of July and JFK) had moments of torment but many more moments of elegaic beauty, whereas this time Williams captured the particularly tumultuous, turbulent ride Nixon went on throughout his life, lurching from one setback to another, but - apart from one - triumphing over them.

Williams almost always blesses his scores with exceptional main themes, and Nixon is no exception.  Perhaps with a degree of black humour, there is an air of Darth Vader's theme to the main title here, heard in extended form in "The 1960s: The Turbulent Years".  It's a powerhouse piece, ferociously dark and extremely powerful.  The lighter side of it is heard in the warm, nostalgic "Growing up in Whittier", another standout track.  There is a touch of JFK's conspiracy music to "The Ellsberg Break-In and Watergate", with the addition of mysterious-sounding electronics - it works well.  "Love Field: Dallas, November 1963" is predictably torrid, featuring a powerful and shocking blast of dissonance from the brass section, highlighted by Shawn Murphy's fine recording.

Much of the middle-section of the score is very dark and brooding but in a slightly low-key way.  "Losing a Brother" is effective enough and quite moving in a way, but the pace probably slows just a little too much for just a little too long, which is a great pity because at either end, the album is terrific.  "Making a Comeback" opens with a particularly gruff presentation of the main theme, which gradually evolves into a sprawling piece of string-led Americana which Williams does so well.  After a powerful blast of the theme at the end of "Track 2 and the Bay of Pigs", the score springs back to life with the exceptional "The Miami Convention, 1968" (at which Nixon was confirmed as the Republicans' presidential candidate in the year he eventually won).  It's a swirling, magnificent piece, dark for the most part and you'd swear you were listening to musical accompaniment for some terrible tragedy rather than a crowd-pleasing speech at a party convention, but it works terribly well.  "The Meeting with Mao" is another powerful piece before the slight calm of "I Am That Sacrifice" and, finally, the bittersweet rousing finale, "The Farewell Scene".

Nixon isn't quite up there with Williams's very best efforts, but it's an intelligent and powerful dramatic score that stands up very well to repeated listening.  There's even a brief interview with the composer and director on an enhanced portion of the CD (this was the first soundtrack album with CD-ROM extras).  Highly recommended.

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  1. The 1960s: The Turbulent Years (5:01)
  2. The White House Gate (4:15)
  3. Growing Up in Whittier (2:40)
  4. The Ellsberg Break-In and Watergate (2:41)
  5. Love Field: Dalls, November 1963 (4:49)
  6. Losing a Brother (3:15)
  7. The Battle Hymn of the Republic (1:02)
  8. Making a Comeback (2:19)
  9. Track 2 and the Bay of Pigs (4:44)
  10. The Miami Convention, 1968 (3:16)
  11. The Meeting with Mao (3:07)
  12. I Am That Sacrifice (4:46)
  13. The Farewell Scene (4:56)