Through the Presidential Key Hole
I wasn't even 2 years old when Richard Nixon was forced to resign the American Presidency due to the Watergate scandal. As such when "Frost/Nixon" came out with its fictionalized account of the ground breaking interview between David Frost and Richard Nixon it didn't really appeal to me. But I was wrong because director Ron Howard has created a stunning movie, adapted from the Broadway play he has turned this story into a piece of entertainment which has the feeling of a big fight, two titans slugging it out in a series of interviews. It makes "Frost/Nixon" compelling especially in the final moments of the final interview when we watch Nixon admit to a cover-up, but also in the build up and the relationships which form.
Following the Watergate scandal, disgraced President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella - Superman Returns) stayed quiet in his home in California that is until TV interviewer David Frost (Michael Sheen - Bright Young Things) manages to come up with the money to tempt him into a series of interviews. Nixon sees them as a chance to tell his side of the story whilst Frost eyes them as a way to make a name for himself. As the interviews start it appears that Frost is no match for the former President who takes control of the interviews and stops Frost in his tracks, a fact which annoys Frosts team of researchers. But with the fourth a most explosive interview to come that may all change.
I don't know how much of "Frost/Nixon" is true or how much is a fictionalised tale created to make the interviews into a movie but the blend works. The opening which features archive footage of the Watergate scandal unfolding interlaced with Cinéma vérité style interviews, created to lead us into the main story are just brilliant. And it paves the way for the iconic interviews and David Frost realisation that getting an in-depth interview with Nixon could make him an interviewing icon. What follows from there for the first half of the movie is basically David Frost and his friend and producer trying to raise the money so that he can interview Nixon.
This first half whilst not as dramatic as the interviews is as critical to the movie as those powerful interviews. It establishes the characters especially that of Nixon who displays an astonishing financial acumen, trying to get as much money as possible for deals such as his memoirs and the interviews. In a way it makes him come across as slightly greedy, looking for a way to make more and feather his own nest. And at the same time we meet his opponent David Frost who is portrayed as this playboy style character, with an eye for the women and an air of free living about him. You sort of get a sense that he saw an interview with Nixon as not so much a way of getting the truth and an apology but purely as a way of re-launching his career in America. Whilst not making Frost a shallow character it does make him almost false with a big smile plastered across his face to hide what he really feels and thinks.
All of which is a great intro and along with Nixon and Frost we meet other pivotal characters such as researcher James Reston Jr. and Nixon's former chief of staff Jack Brennan. What is so fascinating is that for basically supporting characters they are just as pivotal especially Brennan who seems to almost idolize Nixon, refusing to hear a bad word said about him. It makes these supporting characters much more than fillers and helps set the atmosphere, the protectiveness of Brennan, the gritted determination and almost hatred that Reston had.
But it is the second half of the movie where "Frost/Nixon" really gets good with the interviews playing out like rounds in a boxing match. It's amusing how in those first interviews Nixon gets one over on Frost by basically waffling on, never allowing him to get in his stride or ask questions. And as such at the end of each of these first interviews you feel like it is a round of the fight which Nixon has won, not with a knock out but out pointing his opponent. But then in that final, now iconic interview we watch as Frost, now taking things seriously, gets the knock out blow and hounds Nixon into not only admitting the cover up but also apologising. These interviews are stunning and you do really appreciate why they have become so important.
What makes the movie and in particular the interviews so good are the performances especially that of Frank Langella as Richard Nixon. Even before the movie gets to the interviews Langella creates this character who has an element of bitterness about him, bitter at forced into resigning but also someone who is so sharp minded that he is fearsome. But it is the interviews where Langella really delivers especially during the final and most important one where so spellbinding is his delivery of his admittance and apology that you find yourself hanging on every single word. And at the same time the look he gives Nixon, that look of a man haunted by what he's done is so powerful.
So good is Langella's performances that it does over shadow Michael Sheen who does a good job of playing David Frost. Sheen really gets the mannerisms and voice down perfectly for Frost especially when it comes to the interviewers. But I do have an issue and it just seems than in the first half of the movie where the character of Frost is being established it all seems a little over the top, the fake sincerity, the play boy image it almost feels like Sheen is delivering a caricature. Maybe Frost was like this back in the 70s but it just feels a little too flamboyant.
Whilst Langella and Sheen are the stars of "Frost/Nixon" they are aided by some equally good performances from the likes of Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt and Toby Jones. But it is Kevin Bacon who stands out as Nixon's chief of staff Jack Brennan with Bacon getting every ounce of the loyalty over perfectly.
What this all boils down to is that "Frost/Nixon" is a pretty stunning movie which delivers pretty much from start to finish. Whilst I find Sheen's performance as Frost almost feeling like a caricature it doesn't spoil the movie especially when it comes to the interviews. And it is Frank Langella who makes these interviews spellbinding especially the most important one where his delivery is so spectacular that you find yourself hanging on every single word, stunning, quite simply stunning.