Newest Review: ... tight pacing, interesting characters and great direction. Howard sets up Frost/Nixon almost as a metaphorical boxing match. We spend the f... more
Frost/Nixon - an electrifying historical drama
Member Name: jesperado
Advantages: Superb performances and very engaging
Disadvantages: Some wandering accents!
WHAT IS IT:
Frost/Nixon is a 2008 film based on the real-life set of interviews between David Frost and President Richard Nixon which occurred in 1977. The film was directed by Ron Howard and based on a play by Peter Morgan. It is a tense political drama which uses real footage, reconstructions of classic footage and mock interviews with key players to create the historical context for this infamous meeting.
The film shows David Frost as a playboy TV presenter who, after some success in England and a less than successful period in America, is now presenting 'wacky' TV shows in Australia but is still desperate to have another crack at breaking America. He sees his chance when a he catches a clip of Nixon on the news and persuades producer and friend John Birt that he can get the truth about the Watergate scandal out of him if he can get an interview with him. David Frost is played by Michael Sheen who also played him in the stage play. Sheen really captures the playboy aspect of David Frost but also the grim determination to make it in America whatever it takes. He exudes the easy charm that Frost uses to attract women as well as to lull interviewees into a false sense of security. He also captures the ferocity of Frost which lies beneath his affable exterior. Rather than doing an out-and-out impersonation of Frost, Sheen adopts his mannerisms and speech patterns very naturally and uses these to expose the insecurity, loneliness and hunger for fame that drive Frost to face Nixon. This is a superb performance although I have come to expect nothing less from Sheen as an actor.
A performance as sophisticated and competent as Sheen's requires an equally strong performance from the other lead actor; Frank Langella provides this in his portrayal of the ailing and disgraced Nixon. Nixon sees the interviews with Frost as an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the American public following the Watergate scandal. He also sees it as a chance to make some easy cash. He soon comes unstuck and in one very tense scene, his deepest insecurities come out as he compares his motivations to Frost's in a late night drunken phone call. Langella plays this part beautifully. At the beginning of the interview scenes, he leads Frost on a merry dance, demonstrating exactly why he was called Tricky Dick. But as Nixon lies and cover-ups are exposed, Langella's face displays his heartbreak incredibly vividly. Again, he does not play the part as an impression or caricature but allows Nixon to inhabit him completely. I found his performance very poignant and moving which is no mean feat considering that Nixon has become such a target for scorn. The phone call scene is absolutely electrifying as the drunken ex-president vents his hatred of all those around him that look down on him and I could not take my eyes off Langella as he reached his crescendo.
I cannot write this review without a brief mention of Sam Rockwell's performance. Readers of my other film reviews (such as Moon) will know that I am a big fan of Sam Rockwell; yet again he did not disappoint me in his portrayal of investigator James Reston Jr, employed by Frost to look into the details surround Watergate. He plays this with a great deal of passion and is completely believable in the role. His reaction to Nixon admissions during the interview symbolise the disbelief of the average viewer who would never have expected the impeached President to confess in such a public manner.
Kevin Bacon puts in a good turn as Nixon's chief of staff. He really captures that military loyalty and sense of unquestioning allegiance. There are also some very tender moments between him and Nixon which remind the viewer of Nixon's frailty and humanity.
The one piece of casting which struck me as a little off was Toby Jones as Irving 'Swifty' Lazar, Nixon's literary agent. His accent wanders at times which can be a little distracting and I found his performance as the Brooklyn-born moneyman a little clichéd.
I found the mixture of different styles worked really well in this film. The archive footage at the beginning sets the scene and the reconstructions of archive footage (with Langella playing Nixon) throughout the film maintain this connection to the historical context. There also many mock interviews with other characters when they talk directly to the camera giving their view on what is happening. This stops the focus drawing in too closely on Frost and Nixon and reminds the viewer of the significance of what Nixon has done and the impact that his confessions have. Although the film is 2 hours long, it goes along at a terrific pace and keeps the viewer constantly engaged.
Although I know very little about the historical context of this film, I still enjoyed it immensely. The cast is extremely strong and the two central performances are complex and captivating. The different styles used really set the scene well and keep the viewer engaged, showing both the human relationship between Frost and Nixon and the wider significance of their meeting. I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone.
Summary: A really enjoyable film with a superb cast