Frost/NixonThursday 22 Jan 2009
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Frank Langella, Michel Sheen, Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon, Matthew Macfadyen, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall, Toby Jones, Andy Milder, Kate Jennings Grant, Gabriel Jarrett, Jim Meskimen, Patty McCormack and Clint Howard.
Duration: 122 minutes
It seemed like an outlandish idea. Maybe it was. But those are always the best ones, or so it seems.
In 1977, television presenter David Frost was filming shows in Australia, a job which brought with it a certain level of fame if not respect. He was considered a man for the fluff, the nonsense, the showbiz, the weird and the wacky. So when he came up with the brainwave to interview former US president Richard Nixon it's not surprising that everyone took it with the pinch of salt it seemed to warrant. But Frost was single-minded in his determination to pull in the interview. The dollars that had to accompany the request didn't deter him, neither did the fact that he was widely considered under-qualified for the job. Frost decided he would stop at nothing, powering ahead with a dogged determination, in spite of having very little support for the idea.
Meanwhile, Nixon was intrigued that somebody like Frost would want to interview him. But it seemed like an easy ride - a wad of cash for a less-than-probing interview, a chance to salvage his public reputation and move away from the world of after-dinner speeches - it seemed like an obvious decision. And he had Chief of Staff Jack Brennan (Bacon) guarding his corner for extra surety. But then again, Frost was also armoured up, with advisors Bob Zelnick (Platt) and James Reston Jr (Rockwell) and television producer John Birt (Macfadyen) acting as his backup.
Michael Sheen is an extraordinary actor, as well as a great mimic, and he really nails the playboy nature and bravado of Frost, but more importantly the quivering journalist that lies underneath all his fighting talk. His attention to detail with mannerisms and personality quirks is only to be praised. Frank Langella, similarly, gets into his Mr President role with gusto. At first you find it hard to see him as Nixon but by the half-way mark he has really drawn you into the character. Both actors obviously benefited from their stints on stage with the same roles in the Peter Morgan play, really becoming the protagonists they portray. The supporting cast are all well up to the task, injecting a sense of pace into proceedings.
Director Ron Howard has managed to keep the movie interesting in spite of the fact that it's essentially two hours of looking at one conversation, albeit a fascinating confrontation and clash of personalities. The moments of humour that transpire over the course of the interviews inspire you to feel sorry for Nixon, in spite of your best urges to the contrary and you really buy into Frost's particular brand of somewhat smarmy charm.
'Frost/Nixon' is massively entertaining, even if your knowledge of, or interest in, US politics and Watergate is minimal. What it boils down to is a fascinating battle of wills and minds, where each person is very aware that, as Frost said, only one of them can win.
A wonderfully executed telling of a historic moment in both politics and television.