Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Assassination of Richard Nixon


I wonder if Sam Byck might be better known to Stephen Sondheim‘s music than to historians. Byck plays a role in Sondheim’s Assassins, along with other wannabes like Squeaky Fromme. He was the guy who tried to hijack an airliner and fly it into the White House, but never got off the ground. He killed two men and injured others before killing himself. To show you how on-the-ball he was, he grabbed a passenger at random and tried to make her fly the plane.

This is an actor’s movie, and Sean Penn is one of the best. He shows the transformation of Byck from a confused loser with a highly developed sense of entitlement and injustice (in the sense of “The world doesn’t understand me and owes me a living” and “Everybody picks on me”) to a total wreck whose final act is intended to somehow make the world pay attention! The perfect American assassin. He is a total loser. I didn’t feel an ounce of sympathy for him, mostly because he’s a hypocrite. He demands standards of others that he doesn’t enforce for himself. About halfway through I realized he’s the guy who walks into his workplace and shoots everybody in sight, or kills his estranged family and then himself. And sure enough, he comes close to doing both those things. Good writing, good look into how a monster like this can walk among us and hide for years. And if the Supporting Actor Oscar still went to someone who actually did a small role, perhaps only one scene, as it used to, then Michael Wincott would deserve one for an absolutely stunning scene as Sam’s brother.