Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Frost/Nixon (2008)

Movie quotes:
David Frost (Michael Sheen): Are you really saying the President can do something illegal?
Richard Nixon (Frank Langella): I'm saying that when the President does it, that means it's not illegal!

David Frost: I've had an idea for an interview: Richard Nixon.
John Birt (Matthew Macfadyen): You're a talk show host. I spent yesterday watching you interview the Bee Gees.
David Frost: Weren't they terrific?

"…David had succeeded on that final day, in getting for a fleeting moment what no investigative journalist, no state prosecutor, no judiciary committee or political enemy had managed to get; Richard Nixon's face swollen and ravaged by loneliness, self-loathing and defeat. The rest of the project and its failings would not only be forgotten, they would totally cease to exist."
- James Reston, Jr (Sam Rockwell)

At a glance:
Director Ron Howard’s retelling of the dramatic 1977 interviews between David Frost and disgraced president Richard Nixon is captivating, entertaining, and well-deserving of its Best Picture nomination

Our review:
In 1977, ‘lite’ talk show host and former comic David Frost spent his own money and those of his friends to finance a series of television interviews with former president Richard Nixon. For Frost, it was an opportunity to jump-start his stagnant career. For Nixon, it was a chance to explain and vindicate his actions as a springboard to a re-entry public and political life. Somewhere along the line, the interviews begin to mean something else as well - they became a jousting match between two warriors, and only one would walk away.

Frost/Nixon is based on true events, but many situations are embellished or shuffled for dramatic effect (for example, Nixon’s statement that "…when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal" occurred in the third interview, not the last one). Since I was unaware of the actual interviews, these discrepancies did not bother me, but those familiar with the original interviews might be somewhat distracted.

Director Ron Howard is fortunate to have at his disposal one of the top-shelf character actors, Frank Langella. Years ago, Langella proved his mettle by playing Dracula in the long-running Broadway play, and, later, in the film of the same name. And what better preparation could you have to play Richard Nixon, a man who sucked the blood from the US presidency? Langella doesn’t try to do a straight imitation (Oliver Platt is hilarious in his brief attempt), but, instead, he reinvents Nixon as himself. By the end of the film, you’ll think Langella is more Nixon than Nixon was. Michael Sheen is also good as Frost, and there’s excellent supporting work from Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, and Sam Rockwell. Additionally, Rebecca Hall is beautiful and so different from her recent neurotic role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona that she is almost unrecognizable (which is usually the mark of a good actor).

This is probably Ron Howard’s best film to date; it’s the first one I’ve enjoyed since 1985’s Cocoon, and the first one that I have truly respected as an art form. It probably won’t win the Best Picture Oscar, but it is, undoubtedly, Best Picture pedigree.

Writer Peter Morgan is on a winning streak, having also penned The Last King of Scotland, The Queen, and The Other Boleyn Girl.

Nit: When Frost finishes filming his talk show in Australia, he watches a live broadcast of news coverage of Nixon resigning. Someone says it is 9am in the USA. If it is 9am in Washington, it is either 11pm or midnight on the east coast of Australia. It is highly unlikely that he would be filming or taping his show at that hour.

Rating: 3.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Textbook example of a Howard film -- with exactly the strengths and weaknesses this conveys. It differs only in that it's built around Frank Langella's towering performance."
- Ken Hanke (Mountain Xpress [Asheville, NC])

"A history lesson and an acting lesson tied up in one stunning entertainment package."
- Jackie K. Cooper (

"Thought Ron Howard was going to stuff it up? Think again - Frost/Nixon's a great advert for stage-to-screen adaptations. And if you'd forgotten the power of the close-up, prepare to be dazzled by dapper Dave and Tricky Dick."
- Richard Luck (Channel 4 Film)

"It sounds like an awful night out in the cinema. But you will be amazed. In Frost/Nixon Ron Howard turns this duel between Michael Sheen’s glossy playboy and Frank Langella’s shifty ex-President into a gripping tango of egos."
- James Christopher (Times [UK])

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