Thursday, July 30, 2009

Movie Review: "Frost/Nixon"

Starring Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon, Matthew Macfadyen, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall, Toby Jones
Directed by Ron Howard

Official Web site

Recreating a series of interviews between a disgraced ex-president and a cocky journalist in a career valley wouldn’t seem to be a recipe for creating a compelling film. But mix in a couple of tremendous performances along with deftly handled direction and an intelligent screenplay, and that recipe equates to a very satisfying finished product.

Based on the stage production of the same name (written by Peter Morgan, who also handles screenwriting chores for the film), “Frost/Nixon” is a character study of two men who have tasted success in the past and are hungry to get a taste of it again. One is Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States, who is seemingly most remembered by history for the unfortunate end of his presidency, as opposed to anything he accomplished in the prior five and a half years he served in the position.

The other is David Frost, a British journalist best known for his talk shows, who has a pair of shows airing in Britain and Australia as the film opens in 1977, but laments the cancellation of his show in America in the early 1970s. He sees an interview with Nixon, who has been in practical exile since his resignation in 1974, as golden opportunity to reestablish credibility in his profession.

The film is primarily told from Frost’s perspective as he rounds up members of his research team and makes pitches to television networks and advertisers to try and get the interviews broadcast. His difficulty in raising the $600,000 that Nixon agreed to for the interviews, paying a large portion of the fee up front out of his own pocket, means that Frost, like Nixon, has a lot riding on the program’s end result. Frost faces near financial ruin, while Nixon knows he faces the risk of permanent political exile.

On numerous occasions, the two men speak of each other as if they were opponents in a boxing ring. Indeed, the interviews themselves take on the guise of a sparring match, as each side’s team of advisors act like cornermen, telling their “fighter” what to do next.

Langella, in an Oscar-nominated performance, doesn’t resemble Nixon, but does an excellent job of capturing his mannerisms and the way he carried himself. The role could have easily become cartoonish, but Langella never loses sight of the vulnerablilty and wounded pride that Nixon carried during this time period.

Both leads also performed the roles on stage and that familiarity works to the film’s benefit, as each man really seems to inhabit their parts. Likewise, having the same writer (Morgan) adapt his own work pays off here, as well.

Director Ron Howard deftly moves the story along, managing to infuse it with numerous moments of tension, while avoiding getting too bogged down in extensive screen time for the interviews themselves, which were broken up into four parts. It’s within the last part, the discussion of Watergate, where the interviews (and the movie) hit their high point, and the future fortunes of two men are irrevocably decided.

Grade: A-
(Rated R for language.)

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