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
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 »
Howard redeems himself with a truly compelling film that leaves its theatrical roots behind
It is a testament to Peter Morgan's humility and skill as a writer and Ron Howard's ability to take a based on real events story to which the outcome is widely known and create a compelling "what will happen" drama (as he did with Apollo 13) that Frost/Nixon succeeds as a film.
This is a film based on a play that neither felt trapped in staginess nor weakly expanded with just the stage dialogue delivered exactly but in a variety of outdoor locales. I have to give Peter Morgan a lot of credit here. I saw the play in London and wondered throughout production of the film how they would escape its theatricality. Many recent films from plays like Proof, Closer, The Producers, have failed to throw off the shackles of stage feel. Not that all bad films, many served as a good way to see the play if you hadn't had the chance, but they weren't necessarily compelling films in their own right. What is so impressive about Morgan's work here is that in adapting his own play he has not been precious, he has not tried to enforce his already successful stage-play onto a film director he has wholly reworked it from beginning to end and yet retained all the gravity and drama that the play elicited. If you saw the play everything key is here and yet you can feel the difference the pacing is changed, the power achieved in different ways.
For this Howard also deserves credit. To have filmed the play as it was would have been disastrous on film one long two-hander scene after another, duelling narrators. And given the reverence the play has enjoyed a less experienced director could have fallen into this trap or that of simply changing the settings, but Howard knows when we need quick cuts, when a long drawn out piece that worked on stage needs to be reduced to a couple of lines and a post-scene reaction, and when he needs to hold with a scene and let it play between the two leads. This happens in several impressive moments in the latter half of the film.
For some this might constitute the films biggest flaw however. Morgan and Howard can't escape the fact that in the final stages of the film it is the head-to-head scenes of Frost and Nixon that are key and they must stay with them more. This is necessary, but it sadly means that the supporting players, so well established and broadened out to expand the scope in the first half, fall be the wayside. A superb Toby Jones as Irving 'Swifty' Lazar, Matthew Macfadyen as John Birt and always reliable Oliver Platt as Bob Zelnick all but disappear and only Kevin Bacon and Sam Rockwell play any significant role beyond the two leads in the final stages. This is a shame. It may best serve the story creating the sense of claustrophobia necessary to keep you gripped but it does feel like a film of two halves because of it and it noticeable.
Frank Langella and Michael Sheen are superb, as they were on stage, and Langella will take a lot of beating for the Oscar this year. There are many moments here when I was so involved I forgot I wasn't watching the real Nixon. It's not that he looks that like Nixon but he is so real you believe it completely and have to remind yourself you're watching an actor.
Platt is reliably Platt. Bacon is also his typically understated solid presence doing a lot with little. Toby Jones is fantastic in a small role instantly memorable; and Rebecca Hall builds on a series of strong performances. But in the supporting cast it is Rockwell that stands out. Sure, he has the most to do but he is completely in this role, he manages to sink into the role which is something he rarely does. He matches the skill he showed in Lawn Dogs and Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind here and it is great to see him back at his best.
I thoroughly recommend this film.
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