To this day, former President Richard Nixon remains an elusive, almost fictional figure. His peculiar looks, forthright speech and introverted nature are all defining parts of a character that never quite seemed real, more a creation, an amalgamation of the controversies of his tenure in the White House.
This film, directed by Penny Lane, attempts to unmask that figure, to provide insight into one of the most derided men to have ever held public office.
Comprised of audio secretly recorded from within the Oval Office and never seen before amateur footage shot by several key staff members in the Nixon cabinet (a couple of whom were keen amateur photographers), Our Nixon is an intimate portrait that feels original even though it covers well-trodden ground.
Despite the intimacy, it’s unfortunate that Nixon remains closely guarded throughout, and even though the film penetrates his administration, it fails to get to the core of the man.
History records Nixon as a closed off figure, and this is exemplified by the film’s lack of new testimony. There are occasional flashes, such as a conversation between the president and his closest advisor about the presence of homosexuality on American television, but these do not congeal into a revelationary whole.
More success is found in the depiction of the administration itself. People such as John Ehrlichman, H.R. Haldeman and Dwight Chapin are all given new leases of life on screen through archive footage and more recent interviews.
What emerges is a film about one act, the bugging of The Watergate, that to the people involved was a relatively minor trespass, but became a huge political scandal.
It’s tough not to sympathise with those who went to jail – particularly in the light of Nixon being pardoned by Gerald Ford – though I’m not convinced that is the film’s intended motive. The film does serve a purpose, but that purpose is ultimately unfulfilled.