Secret Honor

1984 movie play

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Richard Nixon records his story in a room with a tape recorder, a video camera, and a gun.

A lot of the actual historical references and names dropped went straight over my head, but I didn't really like this because it was a history lesson. I liked this because of the overblown, almost unhinged performance by Philip Baker Hall. Most folk are going to know Robert Altman as a guy whose films work because of great ensemble casts, probably all talking at once. So it might be odd watching a Robert Altman movie with a solitary character pontificating and frothing and shaking his finger around. On paper, it sounds dull, even if the performance is great. This is far from dull, however, and part of that is what Altman does with the camera to make this less like a play. The camera seems to be moving almost constantly, almost like it's as agitated as the subject speaking in the room. Nixon's got his own camera and four monitors to play with, and Altman uses those in ingenious ways, too.

But this is mostly about Hall's performance. I wouldn't even call it perfect. There are times when the impression of Nixon that he's doing feels off, like the guy's just a movie character instead of a real flesh 'n' blood figure. But there's a fervency to the performance as Hall's Nixon just vomits out a stream-of-conscious series of words. History non-buffs like me might be forced to hazily connect dots, but as I said, that doesn't matter all that much because it all paints such a great picture of a broken man with a fractured mind. It succeeds as a character study and becomes more and more intense as it goes, probably because you know that gun is on the desk.

Oh, and what a perfect last line this has! I'm hoping I can be in a situation where that can be my final line.

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