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What's powerful about this movie is the story of how this momentous interview even came about and Nixon's purportedly insightful and extended response to Frost's question about President Nixon's involvement in a crime and the consequences of his actions on the public. Unlike the trailers, the movie is more about the immense difficulties that led up to the actual interview and the powerful and emotional look at the former President, the human face. Nevertheless, there were areas of the movie that appeared to detract from the full impact of this amazing journalist event. Earlier on, there were a number of humorous bits of funny scenes and then they suddenly disappeared from the rest of the movie, the pseudo-documentary format, particularly in the beginning was jarring and strangely appeared to lend less credibility to the movie (more like a docudrama than either a documentary or drama), the Frank Langella's gait, posture appeared at times to be sort of an aped, artificial caricature of the President than the real thing, and finally there were some confusing ambiguous timelines and editing selections that appeared to interfere the pacing and understanding of what was happening in the movie midway through the movie. Overall, this movie was a strikingly informative, revealing look at the precarious nature of this important news event and the human face behind it. Eight out of Ten Stars.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Say what you want about Ron Howard, but he does manage to create engaging dramas within the confines of the Hollywood system. His strike rate for quality is solid. Even his box office flop, "The Missing", is one of recent memory's most underrated gems. With "Frost/Nixon", he takes a potentially boring subject for cinematic reconstruction (a stage play about David Frost interviewing Richard Nixon) and builds a dramatic powerhouse. How does he do it? He starts with a great script by Peter Morgan (the man who wrote the terrific "The Queen", another subject that could have turned over and died) and he casts the same people who were in the stage play, Frank Langella (Nixon) and Michael Sheen (David Frost). He adds a bunch of none-too-shabby supporting players such as Toby Jones, Oliver Platt, and Kevin Bacon, and he blends everything with a professionalism that doesn't feel forced or look too polished. Howard's no-style style always works in favor of his material because it allows the material to lead. Frost was just a journalistic lightweight when he approached Nixon for an interview. Nixon knew it. That's exactly why Nixon agreed to be interviewed. He was confident that he'd be able to walk all over Frost in front of millions of Americans and convince them that he wasn't the bad guy they all thought he was. With the interviews taking place over several days, Nixon gets the upper hand early on and looks destined to achieve his goals. What he didn't count on was Frost getting better and smarter. By the time the last interview was scheduled, Frost, working with his cohorts, had gathered so much obscure intel on the ex-Prez that he only had to throw Dicky the right length of rope. As history recorded, the man took it and hung himself (figuratively speaking). As you would expect, the performances are superb and the film's pacing is swift. Howard gives us fascinating details and fascinating character moments that amount to something much bigger and much better than a filmed stage play. This is engrossing cinema.
David Frost: Are you really saying the President can do something
illegal? Richard Nixon: I'm saying that when the President does it,
that means it's *not* illegal! David Frost: ... I'm sorry?
Finally a legitimate Oscar candidate for best picture and actor. Believe me I was determined not to like the hollywoodization of Frost/Nixon after I had been thrilled by the London stage production with Michael Sheen and Frank Langella in the titular roles. It turns out that Ron Howard's film is the perfect film complement to the stage production as it moves to offices and locations the stage couldn't and as it gives more time to supporting roles.
Most of all the close-ups are the distinguishing film contribution to this historical 1977 event in which unremarkable TV host David Frost gave former president Richard Nixon 4 interviews, the final one devoted to Watergate. For the last 30 years many of us have been relieved by Nixon's admitting in the fourth interview that he erred in the cover up leading to his resignation, the only president in history to do so. The film is not as prosaic as my synopsis, for its drama is distributed slowly by flashback and talking heads in an unobtrusive documentary style that efficiently gives facts but relies on the drama to make a compelling story.
For most of the film, Ron Howard focuses on the boyish Frost as his impending tragedy is that he can't find enough funding for the project. Coupled with his playboy image and perception of him as a lightweight (although he graduated from Oxford, for goodness sake), the first half of the film is agonizing for sympathizers.
Director Howard uses the camera like a scalpel dissecting every puff and pain on Langella's Nixonian visage. He plays the Nixon characteristics with subtlety; on the stage, he didn't overplay either, in fact underplayed them all. The film Nixon more closely reflects his real-life identifiers such as jowls, stoop, and hairline; the stage relied less so even with Langella in the role.
Both productions carry the fascination with a tricky president who still had artifice about him long after his boys had stormed Watergate.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As I walked into the cinema to watch "Frost/Nixon", one dominant
question was in my mind; Is this the great duel that both the critics
and trailers have been making it out to be, or is it as tired as Gordon
Brown on a Monday morning? The film's recent five Oscar nominations,
including Best Picture and Best Director, would suggest the former, but
the Oscars are starting to lose credibility. After all, many people
believe that they snubbed "The Dark Knight" this year when it came to
the major nomination categories, me included. Still, several critics
and audience members were praising the film, so I thought that I would
have a look.
I am happy to say that the positive word surrounding the film is justified. "Frost/Nixon" is a smart, powerful and surprisingly funny movie. But most importantly, it is a compelling character study of two men who have everything to lose.
The film's events take place from late 1976 to the summer of 1977. David Frost (Michael Sheen) is a red-hot British talk-show host. He has fame, fortune and charm, and is known by many people. After seeing Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) resigning from the White House, Frost has an idea for an interview with the shamed former leader of the United States. After much struggling and conflict, Frost finally gets the chance to interview Nixon on four topics, one of which is the infamous Watergate scandal. However, Frost discovers that Nixon isn't going to admit his guilt over the Watergate scandal without a fight. With the backing of his other three team members (Matthew Macfadyen, Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell) and his girlfriend (Rebecca Hall), Frost enters into a dramatic battle of wits and nerve with Nixon. The major question is; who will come out on top?
The main success of "Frost/Nixon" is in the focused portrayals of Frost and Nixon by Michael Sheen and Frank Langella respectively. The supporting cast, most notably Kevin Bacon as Jack Brennan, one of Nixon's chief advisers, and Sam Rockwell as James Reston Jr., who just can't wait to see Nixon acknowledge his guilt concerning the Watergate scandal, is top-notch. But David Frost and Richard Nixon are the two central characters in this story, and also the most interesting. As Frost, Sheen creates a charming and likable individual. However, as the movie progresses, Sheen starts to thaw the character's "frosty" exterior in order to reveal Frost's uncertainty and desperation. Both he and Nixon have everything to win or to lose depending on which way these interviews go, but, as Frost tells Nixon, "only one of us can win".
However, every other cast member is out-done by Frank Langella's sensational portrayal of Richard Nixon. Fully devoting himself to the character, Langella's performance, much like Heath Ledger's turn as the Joker in "The Dark Knight", isn't so much a performance as a total embodiment of the character. Langella is heartfelt and humane in the role, and he never makes Nixon out to be an idiot. He is an intelligent man who understands the rules of the game that he's playing with Frost. But, most interestingly, Langella brings elements of tragedy to the disgraced man. Here is a man who can't fit into society because of the mistakes that he's made, and also because of his personal faults. There is an almost Shakespearean quality to Nixon's plight. He is a former hero who has fallen from grace, and who is trying desperately to claw his way back to the top. All in all, the Oscar nomination that Langella received for his performance was well-deserved, and I personally wouldn't be surprised if he won.
With his disappointing adaptation of "The Da Vinci Code", Ron Howard seemed to have fallen from his career high point, which was his Oscar-winning direction of "A Beautiful Mind". However, his direction here is skillful and assured enough to ensure that he is back on track. His greatest achievement is evident in the interview scenes, when he transforms scenes which could have so easily dragged into tense, uncertain sequences of verbal sparring between Frost and Nixon, whilst their two teams watch nervously in the background. However, there are other moments where Howard's brilliance as a director shines through. One sequence, in which Frost receives an unexpected call from a drunk Nixon, is poignant and reveals further layers in the personalities of the two men.
The script also crackles with tension and wit when it could have been as dry and as lacking of life as a desert. The dialogue between Frost and Nixon exquisitely reveals both the growing intensity and respect between the two men. However, the moments of humour are placed in the film at just the right moments so that they don't disrupt the natural flow of the story or the characters. One particular sequence, in which James Reston Jr. is forced to shake hands with Nixon, is very funny, yet it doesn't affect the suspense of the situation. The writer, Peter Morgan, should be given a big pat on the back.
"Frost/Nixon" may be flawed. Ther are times where it can seem like an expensive TV movie, and it may not be to everyone's taste. But, for anyone who wants to be entertained and learn a little bit about history at the same time, I would heartily recommend "Frost/Nixon". It's well-crafted by a director at the top of his game, brilliantly written, exceptionally acted (particularly by Langella, who will have a hard time topping this performance) and, most importantly, it is respectable towards its topic.
David Frost is a light entertainment chat show host with reasonable
global fame. Richard Nixon is a disgraced President, stepping down from
office in light of allegations of his involvement in the Watergate
Scandal. For career reasons, Frost decides to set up a series of
interviews, at great cost and increasing personal risk. With both men
playing a game to get what they want (for Frost, a career boost and
some revelations, for Nixon, his chance to put the record straight as
he sees it), the interviews begin recording while the mainstream media
fail to show an interest.
The interviews in question have always been known to me, but this is not the same as me knowing about them in any meaningful way which I did not. I had always wanted to see the play when I saw the adverts for it in the paper but never got myself to London to do so nor did I ever think of it long enough to buy the original interviews themselves. However as a result of seeing the film I will be getting the original interviews as a Christmas gift to myself. The reason for this is that the film version did a great job of presenting the event as culturally important, without overlooking the rather "insignificant" manner in which it all started out originally with the whole project being a bit of a laughing stock. It also makes me want to see the play because the script has done such a good job of capturing the characters and the time especially useful when a large section of the audience will not know a lot about this period and the people other than the names and that we use "gate" to describe anything dodgy in politics. This script is the basis for the drama but Howard does well as director to convey what is going on at key points while he otherwise delivers a typically professional film in all other regards. At first I wasn't totally sure of the structuring device of having talking heads looking back but it never became spoon feeding so much as it was a useful way of telling the story and providing insight.
The cast are very good. Sheen has already shown that he can do impressions without losing his performance and he does it again here giving us enough of Frost to be instantly recognisable but not to the detriment of his performance. It is Langella that dominates the film with his Nixon a great character that is hard to do and be compelling but yet he manages it here. The support cast are just that but they are also solidly good with turns from Bacon, Rockwell, Macfadyen, Platt and others. Frost/Nixon is not a fast or thrilling film and I'm sure that the message board will have people complaining "is that it", but let them carry on demonstrating their failings and just enjoy the film because, even without the cultural importance of the events, it is still a professionally crafted and engaging drama that is as enjoyable as it is informative.
Ron Howard successfully adapts Peter Morgan's play about the
Frost/Nixon interviews to celluloid. This film does not fall flat, it
keeps pace and keeps the audience enthralled in the story line.
Frost/Nixon is not a rehashing of the Watergate scandal nor is it a
history lesson given by Ron Howard. Frost/Nixon is an intellectual
boxing match between two men where the stakes are high; the winner
takes it all, the loser falls into anonymity.
Frank Langella had been living with Richard Nixon inside him for almost two years, he starred in the stage production of Frost/Nixon on Broadway and then went right into shooting the film with Ron Howard. What resulted was an intoxicating performance by Langella. Every eyebrow raise, every dart of the eyes, every gesture was as if Langella had created Nixon in himself and was intuitively reacting to every situation as Nixon would. What was so compelling about his performance was the emotion and humor we saw in Nixon. This certainly was never Nixon's public persona, to see the emotion gave me great compassion for the pain he held inside and his longing for acceptance.
The film's highlight, a midnight phone call between an intoxicated Nixon and exhausted Frost, is one of the most intriguing and darkest moments of Langella's impeccable portrayal of Nixon. This is the moment Nixon is opened up and we see all of his inner demons fly out. Frost/Nixon is a complex character study set in a distinct time in American History. I think Langella has a deep respect for Nixon the man, he understands that Nixon was a great human, but still, only a human.
A film worth watching.
Driven by an electrifying performance from Frank Langella as the
controversial thirty-seventh President, Frost/Nixon plays out like a
tense cat and mouse thriller quite a feat for a film whose premise is
essentially a series of interviews. Based on Peter Morgan's play and
the true story of a talk show host who took on a political powerhouse,
Ron Howard's latest never backs down in its intense presentation of the
struggle of a few men to bring closure to one of the most notorious
conspiracies of all time.
When witty British talk show host David Frost (Michael Sheen) plots his return to American television credibility with an in-depth four part interview with disgraced President Nixon (Frank Langella), he quickly finds he's in over his head. As the major studios turn down his offer, his investors rapidly withdraw funding, and his colleagues lose faith in their leader, Frost sees his chance at success steadily faltering. With his political nemesis taunting him in mind games and verbal trickery, Frost must engage in a deceptive no-holds-barred game of wits where only one can walk away victorious.
Following in the footsteps of the original stage play's sensational performances, both Sheen and Langella feed off each other's competitive energy to create a back-and-forth verbal jousting match in an attempt to dethrone the other's position of confidence. But their strong contributions are not alone as a top-notch supporting cast brilliantly succeeds in filling out the story behind the scenes. Most notable are Frost's collaborators, played with fiery determination by Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, and Geoffrey Gould. Toby Jones and Kevin Bacon also offer fine performances as aides in Nixon's camp and the beautiful Rebecca Hall handles her role with ease.
Frost/Nixon makes use of a device remembered from such films as Warren Beatty's Reds, in which key associates of the subject matter will recount hindsight about the events that are unfolding on screen (in this case they are the same actors in the film, where as in Reds they were real people). It is a form of organization and narration, but in Frost/Nixon it is relatively unnecessary. The use of this for storytelling purposes causes the film to have a pseudo-documentary feel, although fortunately the screenplay is so compelling that as the movie progresses it could even be interpreted as a white-knuckle political thriller.
Frost/Nixon examines the tension between the American people and their outrage over criminal Presidential acts, shown through the cross-examination of Richard Nixon by talk show host David Frost. A kind of underdog story (the sort Ron Howard often tackles) this political boxing match is the tightly scripted drama that Oliver Stone's W. wishes it could have been. Filled with memorable performances from a highly talented cast, Frost/Nixon never falters in submersing its audience in the intriguing battles waged for closure.
- The Massie Twins
Historical characters and events are often tricky to put on film. The
audience must distinguish if the story and characters are accurate
portrayals or biased ones based on the director's opinion. In
"Frost/Nixon" (adapted from Peter Morgan's play of the same name),
director Ron Howard delivers a brilliant account of the infamous
interview between former United States President Richard Nixon and
television host David Frost. This could not have been done without the
marvelous performances by Frank Langella and Michael Sheen. This
combination of talent draws in the audience to feel every aspect of
this historical account.
On August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) resigned as President of the United States of America. On the other side of the world in Australia, television host David Frost (Michael Sheen) watches as the President makes his dramatic exit from the White House. Ever ambitious, Frost decides to interview Nixon as he feels it will be a huge ratings grabber. Nixon sees it as a chance to redeem himself in the public spotlight. But when these two gladiators of the debate collide, in the end there can be only one winner.
In a subject matter such as this, it is easy to paint Nixon as an evil villain. Instead, Ron Howard does a great job of producing screenwriter Peter Morgan's unbiased telling of this time in history. Howard and Morgan create a witty game of cat and mouse between Frost and Nixon. Both figures think they can best the other in order to increase their own gain. Howard shows the trials and struggles of both sides as they plan their attack and feel the pressure of making the interview a success. Morgan creates an intellectual no hold barred fight to the death between the two men and shows they are more alike than they realize. Frost and Nixon simply want what any forgotten celebrity wants: another chance at the spotlight.
Frank Langella and Michael Sheen reprise their roles as Nixon and Frost respectively from their London play. Langella is wonderful as the ex-president. He does not play the role comically or outrageously. In his performance, Langella brings out the fighting, never-say-die aura out of Nixon that is almost admirable. He loves challenges, loves to fight, and is quite a skilled debater. Conversely, Langella also shows Nixon as a man beaten down by the sting of Watergate. And yet, he still thinks he can redeem himself. He carries himself in a slouchy posture and is slow moving. Langella shows that this is a man clearly burdened by guilt but cannot bring himself to admit he was wrong about anything. Michael Sheen is equally talented as David Frost. Sheen also shows Frost's longing for a return to American success. The opposite of Nixon, Frost hides his problems with charming smile and attitude that Sheen captures perfectly. He never lets on how bad things may with the production and is always eager to reassure his co-workers of the success. Sheen's best work is his reactions to whatever Nixon throws at him. The sheer look of disbelief and terror in what he has gotten himself into as he delves deeper into the project is remarkable.
In a movie such as this, there are no heroes and villains in the traditional sense. Howard and Morgan show that these are simply two men fighting for what could be the death of their careers. They simply want their success back and will do whatever they feel is necessary to attain it. Langella and Frost deliver gifted performances and are joined by the supporting talents of Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, and Toby Keith. "Frost/Nixon" is not about clearing anyone's name or getting the truth. It is simply about the question: "What would you do to get your spotlight back?"
FROST/NIXON Grade: A
Although this film is the adaptation of a stage play (by Peter Morgan)
about the making of a series of television interviews in 1977 between
hotshot but lightweight British interviewer David Frost and Richard
Milhous Nixon, disgraced ex-President of the United States, the stage
origins do not show. Good use is made of close-ups and the naturalistic
settings. However the minor characters remain minor and what we have in
essence is a duel. Frost, prodded by his researchers is trying to get
Nixon to confess to his Watergate misdemeanours (some might say
felonies), and Nixon is fighting while he still can to salvage his
shredded reputation. It is a tense and exciting battle.
David Frost himself, although appreciative of the attention, apparently thinks that he was incorrectly portrayed as inexperienced he had already interviewed Ronald Reagan, Robert Kennedy, Harold Wilson and Ted Heath but Michael Sheen, a noted Tony Blair impersonator as Frost, has got him down pat. Frost is youthful, eager, determined, and at times desperate, as the whole enterprise, which he has largely funded (none of the American TV networks would participate in the production), seems to be heading towards the rocks. His researchers, particularly the dislikeable James Reston Jr are keen to nail Nixon, but the "smoking gun", a taped conversation with an aide, does not emerge until late in the piece.
Some license has been taken with the facts, for example the revealing telephone conversation between the two the night before the final interview session is entirely fictitious, but it reveals a great deal about what the two men thought of each other. The emphasis on Frost's social life and girlfriends is exaggerated, but there is a point to it Nixon's obvious envy and social ineptitude. Frank Langdell's Nixon, heavy in defeat, is finely drawn and he evokes some sympathy. In the actual interview Nixon avoided being pathetic and was a good deal more chipper.
As entertainment, Ron Howard's film succeeds very well, but it does not add much to what we know about the Nixon presidency, or Watergate. I continue to be amazed how people with such obvious personal shortcomings can be elected to high office, but it has to be admitted that some Richard Nixon's foreign policies (eg China) were better than some of his successors, even if he was lying when he said "I am not a crook".
The world does not always see the American people is a flattering
light. They may be too distracted at times, allowing for their
governments to do whatever they want while they aren't looking but one
thing is for certain, they don't like being lied to. Be forewarned all
future American presidents, if you're going to lie, don't get caught
doing so. Former President, Richard Nixon, will forever be remembered
for his lies but will always be despised for his inability to admit his
guilt in the Watergate scandals or apologize for his betrayal of the
people's trust. Ron Howard's film adaptation of the Tony winning stage
play, FROST/NIXON does nothing to exonerate Nixon but rather puts forth
the importance and necessity for remorse and forgiveness. In doing so,
he has crafted his most cerebral film without overcomplicating the
issues and more importantly, his film will serve as a challenge to the
American people to demand the respect they deserve from their elected
FROST/NIXON is not just about the bigger issues but also the people directly involved. David Frost (Michael Sheen) is a struggling, British television personality. He has tried his hand at American success and failed but sees securing the first television interview with Richard Nixon after he shamefully left office as his ticket. Anyone, of course, would but Nixon (Frank Langella) wasn't making anything easy. He wanted an exorbitant amount of money for the interview and Frost was having extreme difficulty finding financing backers and advertisers because people did not believe he could pull off what was necessary in order for the interview to be considered a success. Nixon, on the other hand, needed Frost to serve as a bridge to the people, to remind them of his humanity and regain their trust through simply being himself. They each had much at stake and they each had teams of people in their corners making sure their best interest were being served at all times. Somewhere beneath all smoke and mirrors was the truth of it all, just hoping to make itself known.
Langella and Sheen are the perfect team. They play off each other with great respect, both in their character and as actors who originated these roles on Broadway when the play first began. In fact, Howard refused to adapt the film if it meant doing it with other actors in the parts. Langella won the Tony for his stage performance and his Nixon is bold, determined, naïve while still commanding and at the most vulnerable of moments, he is frightened that he can never go back. His part is naturally more showy but that does not mean there is nothing left for Sheen to work with. His Frost is nervous, ambitious and also just as naïve and frightened as his counterpart. Watching the two of them face off in interview is engaging and suspenseful as you wait impatiently for one to make a mistake. Documenting an interview runs the risk of being fairly static but Howard's direction ensures that there is movement and momentum even when the two are just sitting across from each other. In fact, despite the palpable tension he creates on screen, Howard seems more relaxed than I'm accustomed to him being.
While Howard helms with a comfortable control, it is Peter Morgan's adaptation of his own stage play that serves as the film's true substance. He succeeds again, as he did with THE QUEEN, in bridging the gap between the public and the intensely private, only this time the castle gates that separated the people from their Queen have been replaced by another barrier, television. FROST/NIXON takes the notion of spin and slows it down until it becomes perspective, allowing for the distance between a president and the people to be narrowed as much as is possible.. And while the close-up can be terribly unforgiving, it is also the one shot we're all waiting for in order to attain the understanding needed in order to heal.
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