Frost/Nixon

Frost/Nixon

Film review by: Witney Seibold

 

 frost-nixon-langella-sheen

 

            Ron Howard’s “Frost/Nixon” is a tightly constructed film about several things at once; It is a history of the casual/damning television interview former president Richard Nixon had with dandyish talk-show host David Frost in 1977; it is a complicated mind game and character battle being played by a fiercely intelligent and more-than-a-little conniving elder against a plucky-but-unprepared neophyte; and it is a revealing comment on the unforgiving and vital role that television and televised media play in the life of the modern politician. Howard does little that is cutting-edge in “Frost/Nixon,” nor does he stray too far from documented accounts (much like, say Oliver Stone did with Nixon’s life. He does, however, manage to deftly pull off an intellectual balancing act. “Frost/Nixon” is a fascinating document, and a dissection of an important moment in American history: the documentation of a failed president largely admitted that he made some mistakes. Mistakes with a fascistic tinge to them. One can only hope George W. Bush will be put in a similar spot in a few years.

 

            It also doesn’t hurt that every performance in the film is first rate. Frank Langella, as Nixon (reprising his stage role from screenwriter Peter Morgan’s play), manages to do a difficult thing: he manages to impersonate Nixon’s familiar mannerisms and speech patterns, but while infusing an emotional depth and character all his own. Nixon may have done some wicked things in office, but it should never be forgotten that he was sharp, observant, and intelligent. Langella manages to capture that intelligence, and focus it into crippling stares that bring poor David Frost to his knees. His Oscar nomination is long-awaited and well-deserved.

 

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            David Frost was played by Michael Sheen, who is probably best known in this country as Tony Blair in “The Queen.” Sheen has just the right kind of charm, dashing smile, and perfect hair that works well for him on television, but works against him when he is seeking to be taken seriously. Sheen in convincing both as a beguiling rake and as a put-upon reporter out of his depth.

 

            A little of the story: David Frost was host of two talk shows, one in London and one in Australia. His ratings were flagging, and he decided to pick them up by interviewing the ousted American president. The fee was hefty, and there was no guarantee, but Frost foolhardedly charged ahead anyway, thinking that Nixon would be enough to bolster his career back into news. Nixon, meanwhile, was living in cloistered exile in his beachside home in California. His underlings (Kevin Bacon and Toby Jones), while wary of the inevitable Watergate questions, are convinced that Frost with “pitch nothing but puffballs,” and Nixon can walk away with a new image and a chunk of change.

 

            As Frost amasses a cadre of passionate helpers (Oliver Platt as the idea man, Matthew Macfadyen as the money man, and Sam Rockwell as the left-leaning, hellbent angry one), and soon begins to see just how much hot water he’s gotten himself into. The presence of a foxy British minx (Rebecca Hall who looks really good in those slinky ‘70s dresses) he met on the airplane does little to comfort him.

 

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            The interview was filmed in three two-hour segments. It up to Frost and his team to get the prez to open up about his failings in those six hours, and it’s up to Nixon to deflect as much as possible. The subtle interplay in the interviews is fascinating. Ultimately, it was damning.

 

            “Frost/Nixon” is a very good film, and I recommend it. Had Howard gone out on a limb just a tiny bit, perhaps allowed his characters to play a little dirtier, it could have been that much better. A late-in-the-game drunk-dialing notwithstanding, Howard sticks pretty close to history. But his mastery of the efficient and clean filmmaking he’s become known for should not be discounted.

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Published in: on January 30, 2009 at 1:25 am  Leave a Comment  

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