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Frost/Nixon (2009) Director Ron Howard 1 February 2009

Posted by jordanfarley in Uncategorized.
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Frost/Nixon is a re-telling of the dramatic 1977 interview of disgraced former US president Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) by British talk show host David Frost (Michael Sheen). Frost almost bankrupted himself and gambled with his career in securing the rights to Nixon’s first post-Watergate interview but the gamble would pay off and cement Frost’s interview as one of the most important in American history.

Although the film is a recreation of true events and the outcome is known from the start, much like Howard’s Apollo 13, it is gripping and compelling throughout. A great deal of credit must go to Howard for his efficient and restrained direction, not once does he venture off into crazy angles and film stocks like Oliver Stone’s flawed Nixon bio-pic, though it was an odd choice to have several major characters (as played by the actors themselves) recounting events throughout as though speaking to a documentary crew years later. The technique was a little bit jarring and my one real criticism with the film. For a film so much about the acting the music and the editing are perfect in that they enhance the experience without being in any way obtrusive. Like good CGI sometimes the best elements of a film are those so well integrated that you don’t even notice them.

The film is also a brilliant character study and a real showpiece for some fantastic acting talent. Langella is getting all the awards attention but it is Sheen who really stands out. In his opening scene those familiar with the real Frost will instantly recognise that Sheen has nailed the voice and the mannerisms down perfectly but then, brilliantly, he subtly reduces these inflections so they don’t intrude on the experience when the drama starts to ramp up in the climactic confrontation. Some have accused his performance as being too similar to that of Tony Blair in The Queen (and The Deal both by Frost/Nixon screenwriter Peter Morgan) but this is an unfair and completely untrue accusation.

Langella on the other hand caricatures Nixon. To be fair it was the only way to play such a well known figure, and he too captures Nixon’s voice and mannerisms pretty well. Upon first watching I was taken in by Langella’s performance, so much so that I never really questioned it, but upon subsequent viewings of clips I don’t know how I was taken in. He is clearly ‘acting it up’ throughout and while there is nothing wrong with that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to enjoy his performance as much as I did the first time around.

Sheen and Langella are given strong support by Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt and Rebacca Hall. All are worthy of praise but Rockwell and Bacon in particular as Frost’s Nixon hating researcher and Nixon’s bodyguard and closest friend respectively offer two of the best performances of their careers.

Frost/Nixon is also notable in that it is the first Hollywood ‘true story’ film in a long time which is actually mostly true (according to David Frost anyway). In fact he says with the exception of a late night telephone call scene between Frost and Nixon which was completely fabricated (and ironically one of the best in the film in my opinion) about 90% was faithful to reality.

A powerful and gripping re-telling of one of the most important moments in the history of journalism, yet also one of the best character studies of the year so far Frost/Nixon deserves its place on the list of best films this awards season.

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