The Assassination of Richard Nixon

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The Assassination of Richard Nixon
The Assassination of Richard Nixon poster.JPG
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Niels Mueller
Produced by Alfonso Cuarón
Jorge Vergara
Written by Niels Mueller
Kevin Kennedy
Starring Sean Penn
Don Cheadle
Jack Thompson
Naomi Watts
Brad William Henke
Michael Wincott
Mykelti Williamson
Music by Steven M. Stern
Cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki
Edited by Jay Cassidy
Anhelo Productions
Appian Way
Esperanto Filmoj
Distributed by ThinkFilm
Release dates
  • December 29, 2004 (2004-12-29)
Running time
95 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $4.4 million

The Assassination of Richard Nixon is a 2004 American film, directed by Niels Mueller. It stars Sean Penn, Don Cheadle and Naomi Watts, and is based on the story of would-be assassin Samuel Byck, who plotted to kill Richard Nixon in 1974. It was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.[1]


Samuel Byck is portrayed as an individual who wants the world to function according to honor and merit, yet he's often paranoid and dishonest, and he gets flustered and angry when things do not go according to his plans. He clearly wants to reconcile with his estranged wife Marie but cannot accept that she has moved on without him. He states that he stopped working for his brother because he perceives that his brother forced him to lie in his job, yet he lies about his marital status to get employment. He attempts to join the Black Panthers, as he believes that discrimination affects poor white people just as much as it does blacks, but his explanations for that fact do not impress the local Panther leadership.

While out drinking with his new employer at an office furniture sales office, the employer describes Richard Nixon as the greatest salesman in history, because his election promise in 1968 was to exit the Vietnam War, yet he massively increased troop numbers and won an easy re-election in 1972 on a promise of ending the same war. His employer gives him patronizing advice, while his awkwardness makes him an abysmal salesman.

Throughout the film he becomes increasingly disillusioned with friends, family, his status in society, the lot of those who are employed and his job in particular. He decides to set up a mobile tire sales business so that he will no longer be employed by others, and applies for a government loan to set up the business.

Byck then suffers several setbacks in short succession. His sales figures continue to deteriorate, and a failed flirtation with a female customer reveals his happy marriage claims to be false. He then desperately tries to get Marie to join him for a company event, but she refuses and later sends him a divorce decree in the mail, and when he reaches her by telephone she tells him to get a life and hangs up on him, leaving him to weep in despair. Shortly afterwards, he deliberately tanks a sale and quits, and begins ranting when he sees President Nixon giving a speech on TV, repeatedly screaming "It's about MONEY, DICK!!!". He decides that as he is certain to receive his loan he can order his tires now and start the business, and breaks into his brother's tire sales business to make a large order, to be delivered to his best friend and prospective business partner, Bonny.

However, the loan is rejected and Byck comes home one night to find a notice on his door that his rent is past due, and his brother, Julius, waiting in his flat. Julius reveals that the vendor became suspicious and contacted police, and Bonny was arrested for receiving stolen goods, which Byck pathetically tries to say is due to racism against the African-American Bonny. Julius has bailed Bonny out and smoothed things over with the police, but says he is done entirely with his brother and leaves. With nothing and no one left in his life that he cares about, Byck begins obsessing about Nixon. One night, after he watches a news story about a helicopter pilot who did a fly-by around the White House and got arrested, he begins putting together a plan to hijack a passenger airliner himself and crash it into the White House.

Byck closes his bank account, steals a gun from Bonny which he conceals on his leg, and heads to a restaurant where his old boss and colleague are dining. He sarcastically thanks the boss for proving a bad man can be a good salesperson, and aims the gun at him under the table, but cannot bring himself to pull the trigger and flees. He goes to his and Marie's old house; he sleeps in the deserted, mostly barren home before he shoots and kills the family dog. The next morning, he goes to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. He buys a ticket and waits in line to board his flight. Seeing the security procedures, he has a last minute change of plan and rushes on board the airplane, shooting indiscriminately as he goes.

Once on board he seems to have little idea of what he is doing. He shoots one pilot in the head and the other in the shoulder, and finds a passenger to act as co-pilot. However, he is shot through the window in the plane's door. While the authorities close in on the plane, he commits suicide. The day's events are shown on TV, but as the film ends, his ex-wife and former best friend have no reaction to the mention of Byck's name. Byck then runs around his apartment with a toy plane and heads straight into the camera as the screen cuts to black. The film ends with a title card that says even if Byck had succeeded at hijacking the plane, his plan would have failed because Nixon was not in the White House that day.


The main characters are:

  • Samuel J. Byck (Penn) – a salesman with a history of short-lived jobs. His name was changed in the film to avoid offending living relatives.
  • Marie Andersen Byck (Watts) – Byck's ex-wife.
  • Bonny Simmons (Cheadle) – Byck's best friend and potential business partner.


The Assassination of Richard Nixon holds a rating of 68% on Rotten Tomatoes.[2] Empire gave the film four stars out of five stating, "it's great to see the courage of '70s Hollywood meeting the conviction of 21st-century indie cinema in this stark, bold drama."[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Assassination of Richard Nixon". Cannes Festival. Retrieved November 30, 2009. 
  2. ^ "The Assassination of Richard Nixon". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 13, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Empire's The Assassination Of Richard Nixon Movie Review". Empire. Retrieved September 13, 2013. 

External links[edit]