Ron Howard’s “Frost/Nixon” (2008) is a simply told but fascinating docu-drama detailing the intense power struggle between British talk show host David Frost and disgraced former US President Richard Nixon as the pair conduct a series of interviews.
If you glance back at some of my older reviews (particularly that of Oliver Stone’s ‘W.’) you will see that I have been awaiting this film with optimistic anticipation for several months now. Shockingly, considering that when one places so much hope in something it is inevitably a disappointment, Ron Howard’s ‘Frost/Nixon’ actually lived up to my high expectations.
The film tells the true story of a charismatic British talk show host, David Frost, who is known for being a popular entertainer rather than a journalist of any calibre, as well as a bit of a playboy, who decides to interview former American president Richard Nixon on his departure from the White House. Although based in Australia at the time of Nixon’s historic resignation, Frost sees the audience potential for an interview with this enigmatic man, and with his trusted producer, John Birt (Matthew Macfayden) , on board he sets out trying to set up a series of interviews with the man known as ‘Tricky Dick’.
In order to secure the interview, Frost is forced to dip into his own pocket to finance the deal, and soon not only his bank balance but his entire career is in jeopardy. The only way he can ensure the credibility of the project is to give Richard Nixon the public trial which he avoided by resigning his office in the face to the Watergate scandal. To this end, he hires a pair of ‘crack investigators’ (Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell) to help him dig up the dirt on Nixon to provide sensational interview material. Meanwhile Nixon’s right-hand-man, his advisor Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon), will do anything to ensure the integrity of his president’s reputation.
Adapted from a stage play, the key to this production are the performances, and Michael Sheen and Frank Langella do not disappoint as Frost and Nixon respectively. Both shy away from doing caricature-like impressions of their famous subjects, and imbue their flawed characters with humanity, which makes us care for them, even when they both behave in various abhorrent ways. Throughout the film Nixon refers to Frost as ‘a worthy adversary’ and this analogy is quite appropriate as the power struggle between the two plays out like a dual. In many ways, the men shared similar character traits, as both come across in this film as very arrogant and stubborn. The supporting cast, also, is excellent. Sam Rockwell is fast becoming one of my favourite actors; and Rebecca Hall provides the requisite eye candy, albeit not in the traditional bimbo arm decorating way. Speaking of the supporting cast, on a superficial note: when did Kevin Bacon and Oliver Platt both get so old?! They look ravaged in this film.
In my opinion one of the best things about this film is that it doesn’t dumb the story down for it’s audience, while at the same time someone of my generation, who doesn’t know the details of the Watergate controversy, can still follow the plot without becoming confused. So even if you don’t think you know enough about the politics of the story, go along and see this film, I can assure you it will be worth your time and attention. And on the subject of time, the film may be 2 hours long but it is very well paced, especially considering the not-exactly-action-packed subject matter, so you won’t feel that time is dragging by.
Now that you have no more excuses, go and see this excellent political docu-drama.