Rated R for some language, 120 minutes
Articulate, compelling and absorbing make "Frost/Nixon" a must-see
"Frost/Nixon" arrives at the end of the year, just in time for awards consideration. Seemingly made for those types of things, "F/N" is one of the most absorbing, articulate and compelling drama's for 2008 and will likely make my Top 10 list. The film features great performances and one truly astonishing one, not to mention superb direction and writing. "Frost/Nixon" is based on actual events and a Tony-award winning play of the same name, about the TV news interviews between British TV talk show host David Frost and former U.S. President Richard Nixon, that eventually ended with Nixon admitting some sort of guilt in the Watergate scandal.
"Frost/Nixon" opens in 1977, 3 years after the Watergate scandal that resulted in Nixon's resignation from the U.S. Presidency. We all know the story of the scandal, and how Nixon never formally admitted wrong doing and was pardoned by President Gerald Ford in the process. In the 3 years since Watergate, Nixon (played by Frank Langella) has been relatively quiet until his Hollywood agent Swifty Lazar (Toby Jones) begins talks of some TV interviews for a subtantial amount of money.
David Frost (Michael Sheen), a laid-back British and Australian TV talk show host, becomes interested and eventually offers Nixon $650,000 for a series of four 90-minute interviews on Foreign Policy, Domestic Policy, a biographical piece and the final centerpiece interview on Watergate. Frost secures a coup with the interview, but financial issues, including advertising and finding a network to actually sponsor the piece, becomes a challenge. Frost's wealthy friends help him out in the process but if the interviews fail, it could sink him and his career.
Frost hires a couple of anti-Nixon investigators, Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt) and James Reston Jr. (Sam Rockwell) to help him become more familiar with Nixon and the issues, and they dig up a lot of information dealing with Watergate. What emerges is a tit-for-tat, a battle of wits that reveals each man's insecurities, ego and reserves of dignity--ultimately setting aside posturing in a stunning display of unvarnished truth.
"Frost/Nixon" is an excellent, literate drama superbly directed by Ron Howard ("A Beautiful Mind") and well-written by Peter Morgan, who also wrote the play the movie's based on. Michael Sheen (Tony Blair in "The Queen") gives a strong (though largely reactionary)performance as Frost, reprising his stage role, but the highlight of the film is the astonishing performance by Langella as Nixon. Langella, who rightfully won a Tony Award for the play, perfectly embodies and shades a complex character more than anyone's done before, including Anthony Hopkins' Nixon. Langella captures his voice, his look, his movements in a near perfect, pitch-perfect performance that's a wonder and without a doubt will be Oscar-nominated.
"Frost/Nixon" wouldn't have worked as well without Langella and Sheen, and the interviews themselves are a treat to watch and unfold, becoming more absorbing until the effective Watergate piece in which Nixon finally, in his own way, admits guilt. There are a host of other real-life characters, including Nixon's Chief of Staff Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon), Frost's girlfiend Caroline Cushing (Rebecca Hall, also an original member of the play), and Frost's producer Jack Birt (Matthew Macfadyen), all of whom give effective supporting performances.
"Frost/Nixon" isn't all that revealing with its story. After all, anyone familiar with the facts knows what happened - the interviews would become among the most watched in American TV news history; this would be what Frost would essentially always be remembered for. The Watergate rehash also becomes a bit tiresome at times, especially with all the bantering between Zelnick and Ruston, essentially secondary Woodward-Bernstein reporters. But the performances make it all highly engaging and watchable, even if you know the outcome.
"Frost/Nixon" should be seen for its strong performances, especially Langella's and a compelling story that ranks among the year's best.