Making a movie about an interview sounds as exciting as well, watching a movie about an interview. Would you pay to see, Stewart/O’Reilly, King/Hilton or Lauer/Cruise on the big screen? I don’t think so. But the David Frost/Richard Nixon interview has much more historical significance than any of those. Although that Tom Cruise one was pretty epic. As someone who has never heard of David Frost and was playing with Ninja Turtles action figures when Richard Nixon died in 1994, I wasn’t sure if Frost/Nixon would have any sort of impact on me. But that’s kind of like saying I can’t appreciate Gladiator because I was born when indoor plumbing had been invented.
Frost/Nixon delivers no surprises. It is about the arranging of an interview, the preparation for an interview and the interview itself. And we even know how it ends. But despite all this, the most action being when David Frost sweeps some papers off his desk, Frost/Nixon is probably the most tense I’ve been at the theater all year.
I’ve been a fan of Michael Sheen ever since I saw him as Tony Blair in The Queen (and now he’s going to be the Cheshire Cat in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland!). Here he maintains his charm, but amps it up to eleven this time as British TV host David Frost. He’s not a newsman, but an entertainer, and the closest analogy I can come up with for someone else in my generation is to say this would be as if Jon Stewart interviewed George Bush, and made him publicly break down on television, and have him apologize for all the failures of his presidency.
But George W. Bush is not Richard Nixon, despite everyone who wants to make that comparison (including director Ron Howard I might add). Nixon is far from a buffoon, he’s cold, calculating, and above all, incredibly intelligent. The tongue-lashing he gives frost for the majority of the film is simply scalding, and something our president would never be capable of. Frank Langella is spot on as the deposed president, and though sometimes appearing like a blustering caricature, is more often than not a dead ringer for Nixon both in speech and in appearance.
The Bush/Nixon comparison that Howard is pushing in the film shines through at times (and I would love to see Jon Stewart lambast Bush on The Daily Show), but fortunately it’s not its main focus. The film is about Nixon, the man, and to a lesser extent Frost, who is portrayed in the film as stumbling ass backwards into success with the interview. It’s hard to believe that one night of cramming and one unearthed secret meeting alone would be enough to break the ex-president down after 30 days of Nixon kicking Frost’s ass, but so be it.
The debate about who is a worse president, Nixon or Bush, will undoubtedly be stirred up by the film. I came away thinking that Nixon’s actions and the subsequent cover-up were blatantly illegal, inherently malicious and unabashedly self-serving, while Bush’s failures have more to do with stupidity, poor advice and laziness. In short, he’s dumb, but he’s not evil. I think an interesting movie night would be a back to back viewing of this film and W.
Frost/Nixon moves slowly, but builds a colossal amount of tension. The scene where Nixon breaks down on camera may well earn Langella an Oscar nom, but he’ll be drowned out by a half dozen other standout performances this year. Even if you didn’t live through Watergate, especially if you didn’t live through Watergate, the film is a must see as it truly captures the mood of the country in a time you never knew.
4 out of 5 stars
Also, Nixon drunk dialing = awesome.
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