December 02, 2008

The Queen Nixon -- Double Movie Review

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" - Henry IV, Part II

That line is presented to the audience on a black screen, followed by Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) sitting for a portrait. The painter and the Queen have a little back-and-forth about the election that has just seen Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) elected to Prime Minister. After the conversation, the Queen looks the camera directly in the eye and the title flashes onto the screen.

This is the opening to Stephen Frears's "The Queen" -- a quiet film, with masterful performances. There were times when I felt lost, or a bit like an outsider looking in, but that's more to my being an American than the fault of the film. It's quite difficult to sympathize with the Royal family, simply because we've been taught that they are unnecessary. Yet, with that in mind, it is an interesting look inside British tradition and government.

Granted, the movie is not about either of those things. Instead, it's about England and the Royal Family's reaction to the death of Princess Diana. In reality, what we get is an astonishing portrait of how someone like the Queen handles grief. Not over Diana, for we all know how she felt about her, but for her grandsons who have lost their mother.

The movie swings between the Royal Family, Tony Blair's administration, and the varying reactions. Blair, in the beginning, is bemused and somewhat taken aback by the Queen's apparent stubbornness against listening to her public. By the end, though, he too begins to empathize with her. Being someone with great power, it's hard to decide when one should bow to the people's will and when they should stand up against it.

Mirren does a superb job at portraying someone who is alive and well and still in the public eye. She plays her without trying to imitate her, choosing rather to imbue her with a restrained humanity. And James Cromwell as Prince Phillip is pitch perfect as always. It is, after all, James Cromwell.

The images, both blatant and subtle, are no less than astounding at times. There are moments when the view is absolutely sweeping, as the camera glides through the acres of Balmoral, the Queen's private residence. If you're not careful you'll miss the instances where the movie will subtly symbolize itself. In one scene we see a picture of Princess Di in one of the papers. Later, we see a deer slaughtered and hanging, with the floor about it looking curiously like the background of the picture from the papers. Whether this was intentional or merely the fevered imagination of this reviewer, I can not say. But if it is intentional, then it's absolutely marvelous.

I also noted times, especially in scenes with Tony Blair, where the film quality changed for the worse. But while listening to the commentary, (yes, I'm one of those people), I heard the director explain that he used different film stocks to present the different classes. Brilliant! If what I've described so far interests you in the slightest, then I'd highly recommend this movie...

/ 5

If not, then perhaps the next film will be right up your alley:

“What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”- Matthew 16:26

From the crown to the President. Oliver Stone's “Nixon” is a bombastic Greek tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, with allusions to “Citizen Kane” sprinkled in here and there. In short, it's everything “The Queen” is not. "The Queen" is a great movie, but “Nixon” is a somewhat-flawed masterpiece. Where Frears is quiet, subtle and restrained, Stone is loud, blatant and totally unhinged.

That's not to say it's bad -- it's just American. And don't get me wrong, there are times where Stone is absolutely everything I credited to Frears... if that makes any sense.

Richard Nixon (Anthony Hopkins) is portrayed as a man with the potential for greatness, with his biggest flaw being himself. There are moments where Nixon's paranoia and slow descent into madness is almost heartbreaking to behold. Hopkins, well... it almost goes without saying how good he is. Almost.

Visually, Stone never lets up. The editing is amazing -- when Nixon is giving his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Stone imposes newsreel footage over the set, to foreshadow the soon-to-be-broken promises throughout.

Filled with an all-star cast and a story of epic proportions, Stone proves a master of his craft. The story weaves in and out of chronological order, giving you a Time Lord perspective of Nixon's life.

After watching this film, one gets a little mad at Stone for not giving “W” the full Stone treatment. Sure, “W” was good... but not great and certainly not near the epic “Nixon” is. One wonders why Stone decided to try and finish “W” before the election, effectively dumping out a gutless biopic. Whereas in "Nixon" it's nothing but guts, as Stone asks you to understand this wounded soul.

Was Richard Nixon a crook? Undoubtedly so. But thanks to Oliver Stone, you also realize he was also a man cursed by his own psychosis. I can't think of a good way to end this review so I'' just leave off he--

/ 5

Yours Until Hell Freezes Over,


D.R.Blakeman said...

Awwwwww..... I was really hoping you'd found a movie called "The Queen Nixon." Now THAT'S entertainment!

Jeremiah Sherman said...

If only...if only...