The truth is that I didn’t go to see this movie by choice. I was kind of forced to, because Bedtime Stories started 45 minutes earlier. I thought it looked interesting, but not interesting enough. Come on, who thinks that 2 men talking is a good plot for a movie?
I am happy to say that Frost/Nixon was not boring or dull as I imagined. There is a lot of tension, and manipulation, and suspense in the verbal duel between President Richard Nixon (played by Frank Langela) and TV smoothie (who craved journalistic legitimacy) David Frost (played by Michael Sheen) to grab you and keep you hooked till the end. In the beginning of the series of interviews, that the movie is based on, we see a fight between a Pit Bull and a Chihuahua. But then something happens, and the Chihuahua becomes a lion. And that’s worth at least the $10 ticket.
In Frost/Nixon, actors Langella and Sheen re-create the roles they first originated to much acclaim in the play with the same name, in London in 2006, and later on Broadway in 2007. They know their characters inside and out, and they deliver. They do not attempt to mimic their characters, they embody them. Director Ron Howard used authentic locations (Nixon’s house in San Clemente, Frost’s original hotel suite), and there are lots of period details, but the film comes down to these two intense performances, 2 men in a room, one trying to get a confession, the other one trying to avoid a confession, while the cameras are rolling.
Universal Pictures has decided to submit both actors for Best Actor Academy-Award consideration, and rightfully so.
In one corner you have Sheen. His character’s insecurity and vulnerability beneath his permanent grin and perfectly white veneers are human and credible. He makes you start to doubt if he’s up for the job. Frost is a man accustomed to being nice to Zsa Zsa Gabor and the Bee Gees, and he is very nice to Nixon, also, for the first 3 quarters of the “talkathon”. But then he realizes he doesn’t have to be nice to Nixon. He needs to question, and probe, and battle Nixon. Afterall, he kind of hired Nixon, when he proved to be the highest biter at $600,000 and 10% of the profits for the interview. The interviews were an enormous risk for Mr. Frost, who was gambling with his money, his career and his future. Luckily for him, outrageous statements like: “When the president does it that means that is not illegal” got him a unique spot in the history of journalism.
In the other corner you have Langella, and his portrayal of a shamed and swollen Richard Nixon. This is a fallen man, desperate for absolution, but still in too deep with his old trickery and slick, deceptive ways. And we, as the audience, can connect with him. He claims that his actions were no worse than those of many politicians and passed presidents, and that they were only mistakes of the heart. Maybe. The result of the scandal was blown out of proportion and it looked more serious than what happened at the actual burglary. At the time many people reacted hysterically over it, and the fact that Nixon had to resign was traumatizing for our nation. But even so, wouldn’t you trade Bush in a second for Nixon?
400 million people watched the series of televised interviews in 1977. 400 million people waited for the truth. Frost and Nixon sat down for these interviews 3 years after the former president was forced out of the office, but the Watergate scandal was still fresh in everyone’s mind, so the admission of guilt regarding his role in the scandal satisfied a lot of those 400 million people.
This well-acted, well-directed, well-produced 122 minutes of epic battle for the truth caught my attention and placed very high on my list of surprise movies of the year.