Writer Peter Morgan's legendary battle between Richard Nixon, the disgraced president with a legacy to save, and David Frost, a jet-setting television personality with a name to make, in the story of the historic encounter that changed both their lives. For three years after being forced from office, Nixon remained silent. But in summer 1977, the steely, cunning former commander-in-chief agreed to sit for one all-inclusive interview to confront the questions of his time in office and the Watergate scandal that ended his presidency. Nixon surprised everyone in selecting Frost as his televised confessor, intending to easily outfox the breezy British showman and secure a place in the hearts and minds of Americans (as well as a $600,000 fee). Likewise, Frost's team harbored doubts about their boss' ability to hold his own. But as cameras rolled, a charged battle of wits resulted. Written by
Upon Frost's first meeting with Nixon at La Casa Pacifica, the former president tells a story about presenting Soviet Premier Brezhnev with a Lincoln Continental. Although Brezhnev was given several American cars as gifts, only one was a Continental. This was given to him in 1973 at Camp David, not La Casa Pacifica. See more »
Michael Sheen and Frank Langella are credited simultaneously before the title. Sheen's name is on a lower level, but further to the left; while Langella's is higher up, but pushed to the right. Therefore, depending on whether you read the card top-to-bottom or left-to-right, either actor can be seen as being credited first. See more »
Frank Langella's performance as Nixon is truly moving in this remarkable film by Ron Howard, which gripped me for its entirety. As someone who grew up during the Watergate hearings, and who reviled Nixon as the embodiment not just of corruption but of the worst kind of interventionist, even genocidal, American politics, this film gives substance to a man who, in later years (especially the GW Bush years, which make Nixon look like a political and intellectual colossus), achieved something of a place in history beyond the scandal of Watergate.
But what Frost/Nixon - and in particular Langella - does is give humanity to the man. We see his arrogance, his love of power, his need to win (hinted at wonderfully in a moment when he is jogging in his San Clemente home to rousing music), but we also see his inner conflicts, his regrets, the fact that perhaps more than simply his crimes regarding Watergate haunted him - that the impact of his decisions on South East Asia were not entirely remote from him, either. And in a sequence that I will not reveal, to avoid spoiling the plot, we also see a hint of his madness, for it is that, I think, rather than senility. (You have to see it to understand this.)
Ron Howard and playwright/screenwriter Peter Morgan have achieved a remarkable feat in adapting the stage play, which sadly I did not see. Not for a moment does this feel stage bound; instead it is a compelling human portrait of two men - for Frost is fascinating, too, and Michael Sheen captures both his much criticized (at the time) surface gloss and also his deeper fears - but above all of the impact that each of our decisions, large and small, and not least if you are leader of the "Free World," have on us all.
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