After sitting through over two hours of this film and then letting it sink in a bit I have to say my initial thought was that Ron Howard really made Richard Nixon look good. He made us almost feel sorry for this crooked President. Now we have to decide if that is just giving the guy a fair shake, allowing his own political leanings to colour his film or just recreating what actually happened? Tough call. Besides all that the film is an interesting watch for history buffs (though I'm sure there is plenty of 'drama' added to the reality in this film) and an excellently acted film.
British talk-show host David Frost (Michael Sheen – The Queen, Blood Diamond) comes up with, he thinks, the brilliant idea of securing an exclusive series of interviews with ex-President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella – Superman Returns, The Tale of Despereaux). Nixon has for the most part been completely silent for the three years since he resigned the office of President. Frost convinces his producer, John Birt (Death at a Funeral, Pride & Prejudice), that the interviews will be a huge success and will skyrocket both of their careers.
Despite the fact that he does not have the backing of any of the networks or has not even secured the 2 million dollars he needs to buy the airtime, which is a constant source of stress for everyone involved, Frost schedules the series of four interviews to take place during the summer of 1977 with Nixon. Nixon, with the advice of his right hand man Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon – Footloose, Mystic River), agrees to the interviews because he sees Frost as a puffcake interviewer who will go easy on him and will allow the former President to conduct the interview like a public relations piece.
For his part, Frost hires newspaperman, Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt – Kinsey, Hope Springs), and author, James Reston Jr. (Sam Rockwell – The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), to help him with the research. While Birt, Reston and Zelnick are working Frost goes out to dinners and movie premieres with this latest girlfriend, Caroline Cushing (Rebecca Hall – Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Prestige). This does not instill confidence in his team.
As the cameras begin to roll and the questions are asked it seems as if Nixon is going to come out the overwhelming winner. He is controlling the interviews and making himself look Presidential. Frost seems overwhelmed and his whole team is ready to throw in the towel. Then after one late night phone call before the fourth and final interview the tide turns and Frost is given a second life.
Based on the Broadway play, in which Frank Langella won a Tony Award for his depiction of Richard Nixon, the film is a taughtly paced and compelling. It reminded me of the excellent film "The Queen" (written by the same man). It really gives the viewer a different insight into this iconic historical figure. Most people, especially Americans, see Richard Nixon as the crook and the President who was caught mixed up in the Watergate cover up. This film sheds light on a man who just thought he was doing what was best for the country he loved. Definitely food for thought. Is it a whitewash or just an unbiased viewpoint? Who knows?
What is important is that for a certain section of the movie going population this movie will be thought provoking and riveting. The film with all its political leanings and historical stuff will not be everyone's cup of tea. But for some the look at a very interesting period in American political history will be fascinating. The well written script (Peter Morgan – The Other Boleyn Girl, The Last King of Scotland) is carried off beautifully by the two leads, Langella and Sheen. Frank Langella has already been nominated for a Golden Globe and I'm sure that an Academy Award nomination is in his future. He becomes Nixon during the film. His performance as this iconic figure is amazing.
It also has to be pointed out that while this won't be Ron Howard's most commercial film it is his best directed one. He has been accused of being heavy-handed at times, but this cannot be said about this film. Howard keeps the film going at a tension inducing pace and even keeps the energy up despite the fact that a large part of the film is just two people sitting in a room talking. He sits back and lets the story and acting take center stage.
-The Making of Frost/Nixon
-The Real Interview
-The Nixon Library