Follow TV Tropes


Film / Nixon

Go To

He gained the world, but lost a nation.

Nixon is a 1995note  biopic of the thirty-seventh President of the United States, directed by Oliver Stone and starring Anthony Hopkins as Richard Nixon. The film explores Nixon and his triumphs and his failings, culminating in his resignation of the office of the presidency in disgrace following the revelation of his abuse of office and executive privilege following the Watergate scandal.

It was the second movie Stone made following JFK, and like the earlier film — an angry, searing and rabble-rousing examination of the assassination of John F. Kennedy — it drew a lot of controversy... but not necessarily for the reasons you'd expect. Unlike the earlier film, which was heavily presented as fact, this movie admits from the start it's based on 'an incomplete historical record' and is intended as less a hatchet job and more an attempt to understand who Nixon was and why he was compelled to act the way he did. As such, it earned critics from both sides; while supporters of Nixon (including his daughters) disowned it as inaccurate (in particular, it was argued that the depiction of Nixon and his wife's alcoholism and pill addiction was grossly exaggerated), some critics of Nixon argued that it wasn't harsh enough on the former president in that, while hardly downplaying his faults, it suggested that there was the potential (and even the realization) of greatness in the man. Stone would later paint a similar portrait of George W. Bush in the eponymous W..

The plot is largely non-linear, at least for the first half, and essentially involves Nixon flashing back through his past as he listens to his secret tape recordings as the Watergate scandal intensifies, the tapes triggering memories of his childhood, his unsuccessful campaign for president against John F. Kennedy in 1960 and his wilderness years following an equally unsuccessful campaign for governor of California in 1962. The second half follows a more linear form, kicking off when Nixon is elected President in 1968, and follows his presidency through Vietnam, his groundbreaking visit to China and, of course, Watergate.

Nixon provides examples of:

  • Alas, Poor Villain: As controversial as he was, the last hour of the film will make you feel sorry for Nixon. He suffers a physical and mental breakdown, alienates himself from his family and loses most of his close allies. By the time he resigns, he's a broken, sobbing man who can barely keep a hold on himself as he leaves the White House.
  • The Alcoholic: Although it's not labored on that much, it is suggested that Nixon and Pat Nixon have trouble controlling their booze.
  • Always Second Best: Nixon has a heavy dose of this in this film with regards to Kennedy, even if ultimately as he's aware and the film portrays it, his was a far more consequential presidency than Kennedy's (even without the Assassination cutting Kennedy's career short).
    Nixon: When they look at you, they see what they want to be. When they look at me, they see what they are.
  • An Aesop:
    Nixon: Always remember: others may hate you. But those who hate you don't win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.
    Nixon: Ellsberg's not the issue. It's the lie.
    Nixon: The key thing we proved was that Hiss was a liar. Then people bought that he was a spy.
    Nixon: It's the coverup that looks really bad here John, not the deed.
  • Anachronic Order: Starts with Nixon shortly before his resignation, flashes back to different points in his life (Early in his presidency, the 1960 campaign, his childhood). The movie drops this in the second half and settles into a chronological narrative.
  • Arch-Enemy: Nixon views the Kennedys and particularly JFK as his.
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
    John Dean: How the hell do you have the temerity to blackmail the President of the United States?
    E. Howard Hunt: That's not the question, John. The question is: why is he paying?
    • And the other question that Nixon asks himself (and never could answer):
    Nixon: All those kids... Why do they hate me so much?
    • And:
    Kissinger: Can you imagine what this man could have been if he had ever been loved?
  • Artistic License – History: The hints towards various groups involvement in the assassination of the Kennedys is this for those who agree with the Warren Commission report. Stone (through Howard Hunt) also claims that Nixon personally ordered the Watergate break-in, an argument few historians would endorse. There is considerable telescoping of events throughout the movie; most glaringly, the 1972 Christmas Bombing of Hanoi is shown as occurring at the same time as Nixon's visit to China, when the two events actually occurred ten months apart.
  • As the Good Book Says...: The movie opens with Matthew 16:26 — "For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
  • Awful Truth: Nixon is too terrified to find out what he believes to be the real circumstances behind the Kennedy assassination.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Nixon is elected President, his longtime dream, but once he gets there he starts to endure The Chains of Commanding. His wife expected that the office would make him happy, but he's anything but.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Thanks to a trick of the light during filming or special effects, depending on who you believe, in a deleted scene where Nixon meets C.I.A Director Dick Helms, Helms' eyes at one point go completely black as Nixon is talking about evil — specifically, the evil that the system that he and Helms represent has unleashed on the world. While Helms wasn't exactly a nice man, his estate perhaps not surprisingly objected to the implication that he was some kind of demon, and the scene was removed from the theatrical release (the director's cut restored it).
  • Blame Game: Nixon and his administration go absolutely crazy trying to pin the blame for their activities on underlings in order to keep the growing attention they're getting away from the White House. Eventually Nixon gets so desperate that he winds up cutting loose practically everyone up to his closest advisors.
  • Blatant Lies: Nixon claims he has a plan to end the Vietnam war immediately and "with honour". J. Edgar Hoover is watching the televised interview at the time and notes that Nixon is lying through his teeth, and that's what makes him a useful politician.
  • Call-Back: In the scene where Nixon is leaving Dallas on November 22nd 1963, moments before President Kennedy is expected to arrive, the ominous drumbeat and footage of President and Mrs. Kennedy exiting Air Force One and embarking on the fateful motorcade is similar to Stone's earlier movie JFK.
  • Call-Forward: In a very ironic touch, Nixon uses the line "Follow The Money" when he wants to link the subversive protesters to the USSR. The iconic line summarizes Woodward and Bernstein's investigation of Watergate and was created by the film All the President's Men.
  • Casting Gag: Larry Hagman turns up as a Texas oil billionaire.
  • Character Title
  • Chaste Hero: Nixon isn't very interested in sex, neither with Pat or the floozies at Jack Jones' house. He considers it a point of pride compared to Jack Kennedy's womanizing.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder:
    E. Howard Hunt: John, sooner or later, sooner, I think, you're gonna learn a lesson that's been learned by everyone who's ever gotten close to Richard Nixon. That he's the darkness reaching out for the darkness. And eventually, it's either you or him.Your grave's already been dug, John.
  • Chummy Commies: Brezhnev is sympathetic towards Nixon and both aim at reducing nuclear weapons on both sides. Mao as well is friendly with Nixon, although in a much darker way.
  • Cluster F-Bomb:
    • Nixon is constantly dropping this. This is Truth in Television; Nixon was reportedly rather foul-mouthed in private and evidence of it is on the tapes, as portrayed in a minor subplot.
    • However, it's made to seem even worse when Nixon orders politically damaging things in the tape to be "Expletive Deleted" too. One aide remarks that it'll make it seem as if he does nothing but swear. Nixon doesn't care.
  • Corrupt Politician: The real life Richard Nixon is really the Trope Codifier. In the movie Nixon claims to be honest at least about his financial assetts.note 
    Nixon: Well, I am not a crook. I've earned everything I have.
    Murray Chotiner: They stole it fair and square.
  • Deconstruction: Of Slave to PR and Image politics in general, as well as the vagaries of historical reputation.
  • Demoted to Extra: Some major Watergate figures like Chuck Colson and Gordon Liddy make only brief appearances in the story, while others (Jeb Magruder, Donald Segretti, Maurice Stans, to name a few) don't appear at all. Which is understandable since the story's already top-loaded with characters.
  • Depraved Homosexual: How J. Edgar Hoover is portrayed, in his interaction with a pool-boy while Clyde Tolson smirks beside him.
  • Despair Speech: Nixon gives one to his wife as they are leaving the White House.
    Richard M. Nixon: You know, once, when I was sick as a boy, my mother gave me this stuff and she made me swallow it. It made me throw up all over her. I wish I could do that now. I'm so afraid. There's darkness out there. I could always see where I was going. But it's dark out there. God, I've always been afraid of the dark.
  • Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: Nixon laments this after losing his first presidential bid to Kennedy; that his rival outspent him and yet still cheated by bringing up top secret information he had been briefed on about the Eisenhower administration's failure to act in Cuba that made Nixon look bad by association.
    • Nixon himself turns out to be this; he was likely to have won the 1972 Presidential election easily anyway (albeit because of a weak field of opposing candidates), but his paranoia just couldn't stop him from ordering the Watergate break-in to spy on them further, when ended up being his undoing.
  • Dirty Communists: Nixon builds his early political career on blaming all the ills of America on the alleged Communist conspiracy to subvert and overthrow America, teaming up with Joe McCarthy during the height of the Red Scare. He still has the same mindset when dealing with the anti-bombing protests during the early days of his presidency, believing that America's youth are being manipulated by the Communist establishment. It's only towards the end of his first term that Nixon concedes that such a mindset no longer has a place in politics and on the international stage. He goes on to open diplomatic relations with China and gets the SALT 1 and 2 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaties signed with Russia.
  • The Dragon: Haldeman for Nixon, being both ruthless and unerringly loyal. Truth in Television, though the film downplays Ehrlichman's role as Co Dragon.
  • The Dreaded:
    • J. Edgar Hoover is universally feared, and with good reason: like his real life counterpart, he has dirt on everyone. After asking for Hoover's support in his bid for the presidency, Nixon later muses that Hoover's agreement was really his way of putting Nixon "on notice" that he'd better toe the line.
    • CIA director Dick Helms along with Hoover are two people Nixon knows never to "fuck with", since they both know all about Nixon's dirty cuban mafia dealings while he was Vice president, which may or may not have links to the Kennedy assassination.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Nixon is embittered by the lack of credit he is given for ending The Vietnam War and improving the peaceful relations with Russia and China.
  • Dumbass Has a Point / Jerkass Has a Point: Maybe some people would not call a 19 year old college kid who protests against Vietnam War a Dumbass or a Jerkass, but Nixon certainly does:
    Nixon: She got it, Bob. 19-year-old college kid.
    Haldeman: What? Who?
    Nixon: She understood something it's taken me 25 years in politics to understand. The CIA, the Mafia, those Wall Street bastards...
    Haldeman: Sir?
    Nixon: The Beast. 19-year-old kid. She called it a wild animal.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Though the Anachronic Order makes it less obvious, Stone subtly introduces assorted characters in minor appearances before they became prominent. For instance, Kissinger's first scene is a brief appearance at a party thrown by Nelson Rockefeller (Governor of New York and one of Nixon's presidential rivals), and Haig appears in the background of several early scenes without speaking, or with only a throwaway line ("That's what they're doing, Mr. President!") before he takes over as Nixon's Chief of Staff.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Nixon's relationship with Pat and his daughters. Though occasionally strained, he clearly loves them and their interactions provide Nixon's most sympathetic moments.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Nixon knows that people love Kennedy and hate him. What he truly doesn't gasp is why. It's made even more tragic because Nixon knows Kennedy was just as flawed a person as he is.
    Richard M. Nixon: Do you miss Cuba, Manolo?
    Manolo Sanchez: Yes, Mr. President.
    Richard M. Nixon: We let you down, didn't we. Your people.
    Manolo Sanchez: That was Mr. Kennedy, sir.
    Richard M. Nixon: You don't think he was a hero?
    Manolo Sanchez: (shrugs) He was a politician.
    Richard M. Nixon: Did you cry when he died?
    Manolo Sanchez: Yes.
    Richard M. Nixon: Why?
    Manolo Sanchez: I don't know. He made me... see the stars.
    Richard M. Nixon: How did he do that?
    (Beat. Nixon is deep in thought)
    Richard M. Nixon: All those kids... Why do they hate me so much?
  • Fall Guy: Nixon makes it plainly obvious to Dean that he's being set up as one. This pushes Dean into being a whistleblower. Bonus points for Dean using the terminology.
  • Fat Bastard: Kissinger is a fat, lecherous and shady Professional Butt-Kisser.
    • Also J. Edgar Hoover.
  • Foregone Conclusion: If you know your history.
  • Freudian Excuse: Exaggerated by Nixon. He is the leader of the most powerful country in the world. Even so, that is little compared to his younghood's dreams. He is full of bitterness:
    John Ehrlichman: You got people dying because he didn't make the varsity football team. You got the Constitution hanging by a thread because he went to Whittier and not to Yale.
    Kissinger: Can you imagine what he could have been if he had ever been loved?
  • Gilligan Cut: Played for drama: we cut directly from Nixon's idealistic acceptance speech (calling for government reform and a "New American Revolution") to footage of American warplanes bombing Cambodia.
  • Glory Days: Nixon invokes Lincoln's regime as this as for the Republican party. He points to the college students that it was the Republicans that abolished slavery during The American Civil War and that his ancestors included abolitionists and there was a point when they were the progressive party.
  • Heel–Face Turn: John Dean, who becomes a major witness against Nixon during the Senate investigation.
  • Hidden Depths: In a quiet moment, Nixon laments the shooting of the students protesting over the bombing of Cambodia. He admits that he wants to send his condolences to the families, "But Nixon can't."
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Broadly, Nixon is angry about how this process works and desperate that it happens to him. The film focuses on the various presidential portraits in the background of the White House, with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, obviously the tradition that Nixon aspires to, and Nixon is happy to point out the shortcomings and failures of other presidents in an effort to mitigate his own misdeeds. At the end, he sees Kennedy's unfinished presidential portrait and realizes that this process has happened to Kennedy and there's not anything he can do about it.
  • Historical In-Joke: Chief of Staff Al Haig yells out "I'm in Charge here!", when Nixon is admitted to hospital. This is a reference to his bizarre press conference (while serving as Secretary of State) that he held when President Ronald Reagan suffered an assassination attempt.
  • Historical Villain Downgrade: A few examples, partly due to Rule of Drama and the need to refine a narrative that already has many characters. Oliver Stone admitted that he depicted some characters as more moral than they probably were in Real Life because he needed someone with a conscience to act as Nixon's foil.
    • John Dean is probably the most extreme example, to the extent that he's not introduced until the Watergate break-in and shown to be extremely reluctant to participate in the cover-up. The latter is debatable, since Dean realized that Nixon wanted to scapegoat him as the scandal grew out of control, and thus began cooperating with government prosecutors. The former is blatantly false, since Dean had worked for the Nixon White House since 1970 and was involved in his harassment campaigns against political opponents long before the break-in.
    • John Ehrlichman is often treated as the Only Sane Man trying to check Nixon's more extreme actions. To be sure, Ehrlichman was considered one of the more liberal members of Nixon's inner circle (being a major proponent of environmental reforms, and encouraging the President to meet with antiwar demonstrators to at least hear their point of view) and was one of the few of those involved and convicted regarding the scandal to publicly express remorse. But he had more direct involvement in the White House's dirty tricks operation than Haldeman, who is portrayed much less sympathetically, and shared Haldeman's propensity for ruthlessness towards the Administration's enemies. Notably, Ehrlichman signed off on the break-in at Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist in Real Life (which he later went to prison for), whereas the film attributes the decision to Nixon and Haldeman.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • Nixon starts the taping of The White House in order to control the leaks. The tapes become a potentially fatal evidence during his impeachment.
    • More generally, Nixon allows his paranoia and resentment towards enemies, real and imagined, to consume him to the point that it destroys his presidency.
    • Kennedy wins the election because during the debate, he starts asking questions about Cuba Nixon knows he can't answer.
  • I Just Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Pat Nixon overcomes her reticence about Nixon's political career when he assures her that being President will make him happy. It doesn't, and their marriage suffers immensely.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: Out of all the reasons he's being charged with impeachment, the only one Nixon is genuinely offended with is his order to bomb Cambodia.
    Nixon: They can't impeach me for bombing Cambodia. The President can bomb anybody he likes.
  • I Just Want to Be Loved: Nixon lives in the shadow of Kennedy because of it.
  • Inherent in the System: Argued as the real cause Nixon cannot stop the Vietnam War:
    Young Student: You don't want the war, we don't want the war, the Vietnamese don't want the war, so why does it go on?
    (Nixon hesitates)
    Haldeman: (whispers to Nixon) We should be going.
    Young Student: You can't stop it, can you? Even if you wanted to. Because it's not you, it's the system. The system won't let you stop it.
    Nixon: There's... there's more at stake here than what you want, or what I want.
    Young Student: Then what's the point? What's the point of being President? You're powerless!
    Nixon: (firmly) No. No, I'm not powerless. Because, because I understand the system, I believe I can, uh, I can control it. Maybe not control it totally, but tame it enough to make it do some good.
    Young Student: Sounds like you're talking about a wild animal.
    Nixon: Yeah, maybe I am.
  • In-Universe Nickname: Richard Nixon's infamous moniker; "Tricky Dick".
  • It's All About Me: Nixon, who says it word by word, thinks the media and public turning against him are all because they don't like him, and nothing at all to do with the horrible things he did as president.
  • Kavorka Man
    Mao: How a fat man gets so many girls?
    Kissinger: Power, Mr. Chairman, is the ultimate aphrodisiac.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: Lampshaded by Nixon at the beginning, but not an actual example for obvious reasons.
    Nixon: Hey Al? Men in your profession, you give 'em a pistol and then leave the room. I don't have a pistol, Al.
  • Lonely at the Top:
    • Nixons closed-door meeting with Mao has shades of this. Mao is clearly depressed about his legacy and flat out bored with political life. He's more interested in asking why Kissinger is such a ladies man. This is largely Truth in Television; during the real meeting, Mao mostly limited himself to small talk with Nixon and Kissinger while allowing Zhou Enlai to handle political negotiations.
    • Nixon gets there too. His own wife remarks he has alienated everyone, including her.
  • Men Don't Cry: Nixon believes in this and says it word for word, adding that "you don't cry, you fight." Averted during his final moments at the helm.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: The Watergate break-in, a "third-rate burglary", opens a can of worms that exposes Nixon's shady deals and terminates his presidency.
  • Mononymous Biopic Title
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • A tense meeting between Nixon and John Dean in which Dean begins to suspect that Nixon is setting him up to be a scapegoat suddenly takes a turn for the comic when Nixon, escorting Dean out of the Oval Office, pulls the handle off the door, prompting a moment of awkwardness as the two remain trapped in the office.
    • Another tense meeting with General Haig in a corridor ends with Nixon dramatically trying not to get impeached and denying it all. He walks toward a big hall full of "P.O.Ws", while looking deeply in distress ... and change suddenly his face to give a big politician smile.
  • My Beloved Smother: The portrayal of Hannah Nixon verges on this.
  • N-Word Privileges: Nixon is aghast when he hears himself calling African-Americans "niggers", stating This Cannot Be! in Third-Person Person.
  • Never My Fault: Nixon believes all his dirty activities are necessary for national security and doesn't believe running them makes him a criminal.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Nixon has a friendly and humanizing relationship with Manolo, his valet.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Mostly averted, though Nixon's friend Trini Lopez is a thinly-disguised Bebe Rebozo, and "Jack Jones" is a composite of businessmen like H.L. Hunt and Howard Hughes, whom Nixon had murky dealings with before and during his presidency. Nixon's unnamed attorney late in the movie is a Composite Character of several lawyers, including J. Fred Buzhardt and James St. Clair who defended him in the House impeachment hearings.
  • No Such Agency: When Nixon feels that he can't rely on the FBI or the CIA, he institutes his own personal agency; The White House Plumbers.
  • Nothing Personal: Haldeman points this out when Mitchell is being cut loose.
  • Nuke 'em: At dinner with his advisors, Nixon threatens to take this action in Vietnam if he feels it will force the north Vietnamese to surrender. Everyone is aghast by the notion until Henry Kissinger chimes in that they have to entertain the possibility.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Nixon's notorious "madman theory" is invoked while discussing the invasion of Cambodia and the possibility of using nuclear weapons against North Vietnam.
    Kissinger: They (the State Department) don't realize - as you do, sir - that the Communists only respond to strength and will only negotiate in good faith if they fear the madman Richard Nixon.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    John Ehrlichman: Well, sir, it turns out one of the people implicated is still on the White House payroll.
    Richard M. Nixon: Who? Not another damn Cuban?
    H. R. Haldeman: No sir. A guy named Hunt. Howard Hunt, sir.
    Richard M. Nixon: [Fear creeping on his face] Hunt? Howard Hunt?
  • Only Sane Man: Inverted in that almost everyone realizes Nixon is increasingly unstable following Watergate, but can't do a thing about it. Ehrlichman and Haig play the role most often though.
  • Open Secret: J. Edgar Hoover's sexual proclivities are well known to Nixon and others. When discussing Hoover, Nixon even refers to him as "the old queen" and "that old cocksucker". Since Hoover is The Dreaded for having all the dirty goods on everyone else, nobody would dare use Hoover's Open Secret against him.
  • Photo Op with the Dog : Done literally by Nixon in his defense during a speech about the Checkers scandal; he brings up a dog adopted by his children, named Checkers. It's infamously successful and saves his career.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: While Nixon doesn't exemplify correction, the shadowy men who want to control the country behind the scenes stand out in this regard. Just in case you didn't realize Hoover or "Jack Jones" were pure evil, they happily drop racial epithets to clue you in.
    • At one point, Haldeman gives a violently anti-Semitic tirade against the New York Times. Ehrlichman, Dean and Kissinger (himself Jewish) are visibly shocked, but Nixon needless to say is unfazed.
  • Professional Butt-Kisser: Kissinger gets this treatment, most notably in his introductory scene where he supports Nixon's invasion of Cambodia over the protests of Nixon's cabinet (whom he labels "cowards").
  • Properly Paranoid: Given Kennedy's assassination, the unstable inner and foreign situation and the shady people he's dealing with, Nixon's fears seem justified. However, at a certain point his paranoia goes too far and he ends up alienating everyone from him, and in a deteriorated mental state to boot.
  • Protagonist Title
  • Realpolitik: Nixon believes America will look weak and exploitable on the world stage by pulling out of Vietnam immediately. He decides instead to bomb the hell out of Vietnam and Cambodia for a few more years to appear in a position of dominance before accepting the same peace treaty with the North Vietnamese which they had been offering the whole time.
  • Re-Cut: A director's cut was released with 28 additional minutes, mostly centered around a scene where Nixon meets with CIA director Richard Helms, which was initially removed because Helms threatened with a lawsuit, and another on Tricia Nixon's wedding day, where J. Edgar Hoover persuades Nixon to install the taping system in the Oval Office.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Invoked by Nixon; he can start a détente with the Communist countries because he has the proven reputation of a hardliner. Anyone but him would be lambasted for being soft.
    • Let's all say it together: "Only Nixon could go to China."
  • Replacement Scrappy: In-universe. Nixon think himself as this compared to JFK, and that the American people sees him as this as well and thats why they've such a low opinion of him.
  • The Resenter: Nixon resents Kennedy's popularity, even long after his death.
  • Rewind, Replay, Repeat: Nixon hears his tapes over and over again.
  • Rule of Symbolism: After threatening to drop the big one on north Vietnam while discussing the matter at dinner with his advisors, Nixon orders his steak be taken away because it has leaked a large pool of blood on his plate. They were also discussing the bombings in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and the four dead students of Kent State. Lots of blood.
    • Earlier in the film, the horse rearing up and panicking when J. Edgar Hoover chats with Nixon.
  • Scandalgate: Natch.
  • Scary Symbolic Shapeshifting: During a discussion between the eponymous president and CIA director Helms concerning evil, Helms' eyes appear to turn pitch-black. Given that the rest of the film is largely a grounded story of Richard Nixon's presidency, the transformation is distinctly out of place - and actually resulted in the scene being deleted following a complaint from Helms' estate.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Something the real Nixon actually believed and admitted, although this Nixon paraphrases it a bit.
    Nixon: It's not illegal if the President does it.
    • Also, this gem later in the film:
    Nixon: They can't impeach me over Cambodia. The President can bomb anyone he likes!
  • Shame If Something Happened: The shadowy group tells Nixon that his position "can change. In a heartbeat". Nixon - who among other things controls the IRS - is able to turn the tables.
    Nixon: Presidents don't threaten, Jack. They don't have to.
  • Shout-Out:
    • To Citizen Kane: the opening shot of the White House, ominously viewed through the metal fence during a storm, mirrors the reveal of Xanadu. As well as any number of horror films featuring a scene / opening with an ominous mansion.
    • Also from Citizen Kane: the nonlinear structure, use of a fake newsreel to give background on Nixon's life, and the tool of a mystery at the center of the subject's soul (Rosebud in Kane, the Watergate tapes in Nixon).
    • Nixon uses the line "Follow the Money" from All the President's Men (see Call-Forward above for more details).
  • Silent Majority: Invoked and namecheked by Nixon during his campaign speeches, remarking that the protesters are a Vocal Minority.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Nixon, very much Truth in Television. A great joke is when he sees the tape transcripts and sees all the swears and is shocked, shocked, that it has so many swear words and tries to blacken it out, making the pages covered in ink.
  • Slave to PR: Nixon is very much so. Indeed the film generally looks at how mass media and TV coverage greatly affected Nixon's mentality and the kind of pressures this kind of media influence had on transparency and surveillance. Nixon becomes obsessed with Kennedy's Controversy-Proof Image and becomes The Resenter that his image is not good enough. Most of the movie is about Nixon's paranoia as a president stemming from the fact that he's always being watched, his actions judged and scrutinized at every step of the way which requires politicans to create a media personality to project on camera, often serving as the Designated Hero (in the case of Kennedy) and the Designated Villain (in the case of Nixon). Nixon's watergate scandal, his wiretapping and his personal life becomes all about the image and eventually, he starts Becoming the Mask.
  • Stupidest Thing I've Ever Heard: Said by Nixon when he's asked about a statement that connects high-level White House officials to the Watergate break-in.
  • 10-Minute Retirement: Nixon promises his wife he's quitting politics after his defeat in '60, but then he runs again in '62. Afterwards he retires to a civilian life when Pat asks for a divorce. Nixon does a comeback in '68.
    Jack Jones: Dick... your country needs you.
    Nixon: Unfortunately, the country's not available right now.
  • Third-Person Person: Nixon refers to Nixon from time to time.
  • This Loser Is You:
  • Tragic Hero: Played with in the character of Richard Nixon (emphasis on "tragic") in a way that it makes Nixon into a giant case of What Could Have Been. Lamp Shaded by Kissinger.
    Kissinger: Can you imagine what he could have been if he had ever been loved?
  • Traitor Shot: Kissinger briefly receives a few of them when the leaks are being discussed.
  • Verbal Judo: Nixon's tense conversation with CIA Director Dick Helms. The President is ostensibly going there to give him marching orders, but Helms not only has his own agenda, but also leverage over Nixon in the form of files linking the latter to covert operations in third world countries during his time as Vice President. The result is a sparring match between two very powerful, very intimidating men of power.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: While the movie is generally true to Nixon's life, certain aspects have been compressed, altered and played with for dramatic value. The movie, granted, admits this straight up.
  • Villain Protagonist: Nixon.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Depends on whether you view Nixon as a villain or not, but the last third of the movie basically features Nixon having a slow-burning one as he becomes increasingly delusional, frantic and paranoid as the Watergate crisis spirals out of control. After he finally signs his resignation letter and is alone with Henry Kissinger, he asks Kissinger to join him on his knees in prayer and essentially starts crying and babbling incoherently. According to Kissinger himself, this episode actually happened.
  • Vote Early, Vote Often: Nixon's camp accuses Kennedy of stuffing the ballot boxes, but Nixon doesn't contest the election. The movie doesn't mention that Nixon did his own stuffing too.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Nixon says this about JFK.
  • Who Shot JFK?:
    • An undercurrent of the story. A central theme is Nixon's paranoia over "the whole Bay of Pigs thing" coming out again — with "Bay of Pigs" heavily implied and speculated to be code about some conspiracy, real or imagined, that Nixon believed existed about who actually killed Kennedy, which he was afraid to discover the real truth about. In his tense meeting with the shadowy Texas businessmen and Cuban exiles in 1963 (the day before Kennedy arrived, let us noted), it's hinted that they have something to do with it.
    • Not quite JFK, but his later meeting with J. Edgar Hoover contains a hint that Hoover has some responsibility for Robert Kennedy's assassination ("They should shoot the son-of-a-bitch.")
    • Nixon also claims the way was cleared for him by "four bodies", implied to be JFK, RFK and Nixon's two brothers who died of tuberculosis (if they had lived his family would never have had enough money to send Richard to law school and he never would have been a politician).
  • Women Are Wiser: Pat, which becomes obvious during Nixon's breakdown.