“I let them down. I let down my friends, I let down my country and worst of all I let down our system of government.”
Frost / Nixon
Director: Ron Howard
Writer: Peter Morgan
Starring: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell
I first saw this trailer in front of “The Changeling” and my first thought was ‘meh.’ That was until I saw Ron Howard’s name flash onscreen. I was hooked from that point on. There’s a part in the trailer where Nixon is talking about making his opponents “choke.” The line is delivered in full-on Nixon form by the brilliant Frank Langella and assuming you’ve seen some sort of Nixon footage you know how he sounds. Instantaneously, a group of teenagers in front of us erupted into a fit laughter. My two immediate thoughts were; 1) Why are you watching The Changeling when Beverly Hills Chihuahua is right next door? and 2) You just watched a Richard Nixon episode of The Simpsons, didn’t you?
I hate the youth.
Based upon the play of the same name, Frost/Nixon dramatises the 1977 televised interviews between charismatic television personality David Frost (Sheen) and supremely complicated president Richard Nixon (Langella). Coming off of a resignation and Watergate scandal (the bugging of members of the Democratic National Committee), Nixon ultimately agrees to Frost’s $600,000 interview proposal with the hopes of steam-rolling the ambitious reporter.
Upon arriving in California with friend and producer John Birt (Macfayden), Frost hires two American investigators. Bob Zelnick (Platt) and James Reston Jr (Rockwell), who both had previously expressed disinterest in the ex-president, are hired to gather more substantial information mainly covering Watergate.
Despite being able to fund the entire project (by selling his London Weekend Television shares and calling upon wealthy friends), Frost is unable to sell the series of interviews to any US broadcast networks.
Some time later…
After ground rules have been laid, the pair are set to cover four topics over the 12 days of filming including; Foreign/Domestic Policy, the handling of Vietnam, Biography and Watergate. During the first sets of interviews, investigators Zelnick and Reston grow agitated with Frost for struggling to ask Nixon the hard-hitting questions they had planned on.
Four days before the final session on Watergate, Frost recieves a phone call from an intoxicated Nixon. He proceeds to tell Frost that they both know the final interview will make or break the other’s career. With that realization, Frost gets his ass in gear collecting the information needed to make it impossible for Nixon to manipulate the interview to his best advantage.
The final interview shows Frost as a much sterner opponent who manages to get Nixon to admit his full involvement in Watergate. After having Nixon confess that he “let the American people down,” Frost is certain he has won the journalistic legitimacy he so desperately craved.
Writing — 5/5
Screenwriter and playwright Peter Morgan, who’s previous endeavours include The Queen and The Last King of Scotland, serves up another gripping drama. After the success of the plays year long run, what’s the next big way to cash in? Adapt it to film! Morgan doesn’t just write about a fallen politician and a jet-setting TV personality, he takes us into the relationship between politics and the media. The script is loaded with dramatic dialogue, spoken by beautifully crafted characters. I must admit the “meh” factor came back before sitting down to watching this, for I’m not particularly interested in politics. That being said, I can honestly say there was no point in time where I wasn’t completed captivated by this film.
Direction — 4/5
I love Ron Howard. Ol’ Opie / Richie Cunningham / Mr. Narrator.
IMBD informs us that before Ron Howard was selected to direct, there was initial interest from Martin Scorsese, George Clooney and Sam Mendes. I honestly can’t see any other director taking this on. It just feels like a Ron Howard movie. It flows perfectly into his resume right alongside ‘A Beautiful Mind’ and ‘Cinderella Man.’ The latter being a movie noone saw, except my mother and I, due to ‘Spazzy Crowe’s’ phone-throwing incident.
Howard takes the interview scenes (which are the most static of shots) and laces them with suspense that exposes the insecurities of two extremely driven men. My only complaint is that these scenes aren’t nearly long enough. I understand the information leading up to these scenes is important, but the chemistry between Sheen and Langella makes for tremendous entertainment.
(Plus I just love to look at Sheen’s hideous 70’s hairdo.)
Casting — 4/5
Both Frank Langella (also known for Good Night & Good Luck) and Michael Sheen (best known for The Queen and knocking up Kate Beckinsale) reprise the roles they brought to life onstage. Frank Langella has been nominated countless times (with a few wins) for his ruthless portrayal of Richard Nixon. I obviously wasn’t alive during the actual broadcast, but from the footage of Nixon I’ve actually seen, I know the man does a damn fine job. He completely loses himself in the role and plays up Nixon’s frailty and sadness with great success.
But I don’t want to forget about Michael Sheen’s underrated performance. He plays Frost as a man who oozes confidence all the while maintaining a subtle hint of fear written across his face. After all, if the interviews bomb, Frost will inevitably be left bankrupt. (Who wouldn’t be concerned?)
The times Langella and Sheen interact in character (and maybe out of character as I do not know them personally) create a tension so palpable it could be cut with an ultra-dull Ronco knife. You know this chemistry couldn’t be achieved so elegantly by anyone but these two actors who previously perfected their roles on Broadway a few years before.
Sam Rockwell (who can do no wrong in my book) and Oliver Platt are excellent additions as the hired investigators hoping to give Nixon “the trial he never had.”
Matthew Macfayden also does a great job as Frost’s producer/chum John Birt. He plays nicely as the practical to Frost’s chaotic.
And I must not forget Kevin Bacon as Nixon’s post presidential Chief of Staff, Jack Brennan. He is a conflicted man who holds Nixon’s best interest at heart even if it means continuing to cover up the truth.
My one problem with casting is with Rebecca Hall (The Prestige) as Frost’s love interest Caroline Cushing. She adds nothing dynamic to the plot other than cementing Frost as a ladies man. Ron Howard could have substituted her dialogue to make room for more interview footage.
And finally in true Ron Howard fashion, he throws his brother Clint a cinematic bone, casting him as a cameraman.
Overall Experience — 5/5
If you’re in the mood for a well-crafted drama filled with suspense, wit and humanity at it’s finest – then Frost/Nixon is the film for you!
Salvatore Totino’s beautiful cinematography makes the film even more captivating as well as an intense score from composer Hans Zimmer.
Frost/Nixon showcases brilliant performances and has no problem delving into the vanities of some pretty powerful people. I truly believe this movie deserves every nomination/award that comes it’s way. And if you disagree, I will fight you.
Now go and narrate the Arrested Development movie, Ron!
(I apologize for the grotesque overusing of adjectives in this review. Percocet is not a good painkiller to write film reviews on.)