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2008 Film adaptation of the stageplay and famous interviews between David Frost and Richard Nixon

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A movie based on a play based on an interview that was decentish

  • May 15, 2009
Pros: Supporting cast

Cons: Very dull storyline

The Bottom Line: Even if you are a Nixon/Watergate buff, this isn't required watching.  If you are such a buff, maybe good for a rainy day.  Otherwise, find another bio-pic.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.

The worst plays are more intimate than great movies.  Sitting in the audience watching live actors treading the boards without the safety net, i.e. CUT, is a different intensity of intimacy than can be found in the polished and edited actors performing for actor-friendly cameras.  A flubbed line in a movie is called an outtake; a flubbed line in a play is a piece of tension shared throughout the auditorium.

Frost/Nixon had to be a great play.  I mean, you are presented with a tragic figure (and the closest thing to true Aristotelian tragedy the US has created—so far as I can tell) who fell from the heights to become the subject of scathing articles, books that blame, books that spent hundreds of pages just trying to find his flaw, then falling into Trivial Pursuit like semi-infamy.

It does not translate well into film.

Shortly after Richard Nixon resigned the presidency, David Frost, a charming but mostly vapid talk show host got his mind set on being the first person to interview the resignee.  After negotiating a hefty fee for the privilege, David Frost got his interviews almost 3 years after Mr. Nixon left the White House.

Each side of this story had a cadre of people treating their hero as the boxer in a do-or-die bout.  Nixon (Frank Langella) had a Chief of Staff Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon); Frost (Michael Sheen) had, primarily, producer Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt) with a strong second fiddle in a researcher James Reston (Sam Rockwell).  On the one side you have the serious and funereal severity meant to tamp down the shame contrasted almost point by point in the carefree and careless nature of the hip Frost set.  Jack Brennan’s shoe imagery sums it up best: men wore lace up wingtips, sissy boys wore slip on Italian loafers.

The loafer wearing Brit got the gig because he was considered such a lightweight that he would never be able to match one of the greatest debaters of his time.  This plot aspect is driven mainly by Frost’s back story of having to finance what increasingly looked like a fool’s errant, and his gad-about in the ultra-hip Southern California that made him look like a gad-about to his producer and researcher.  Did he rise to the challenge?  Logic being what it is . . . I will leave it to a reader to decide this on his/her own.

Mr. Langella is one of the men of serious film that kind of sneaks up; he is so natural in any of his characters that he disappears (I think Gene Hackman is like that and Harvey Keitel on his better days).  I still don’t know whether the interpretation we get on film is his doing or director Ron Howards’s decision.  Either way, I kept getting the sense that I was seeing yet another caricature of the easiest president to mimic (W included).  Mr. Langella played up the sweat and drool aspects of Nixon to the point that it looked like a leaky version of other satires of this president.  I really wanted to like him in this role.  I was more disappointed than not.

Michael Sheen’s version of Frost pushed his foppishness to the extreme.  He doesn’t come across as any more real or likable than his counterpart. 

The other actors playing the, literally, supporting roles are what kept me watching.  The back and forth between Nixon and Frost was flat at best.  The interaction between Mr. Bacon and Misters Platt and Rockwell showed most of the tension of the film; the rest of this tension was between Sheen and Rockwell with the stalwart researcher facing off against the carefree Brit.  The interview scenes themselves were a distraction from the real pathos the film wanted to portray through its main characters.

There was nothing at all special about the structure of the story.  Someone of Mr. Howard’s abilities need not have directed this film.  It isn’t an art-house piece where a staid design heightens the emotions by not getting in the way.  Simply, Frost/Nixon is a film lost in time.  It does not invite a viewer who knows nothing of the situation; it only suggests invitation to those who know the issue fairly well.

I also thought that this was a prequel to the inevitable analogue when #43 consents to an interview.  Neither man ever admitted any mistake.  Both men insured the deaths of tens of thousands (treble that for #37).  Both men left the country in far worse shape than it was when they started.  Both men had a generally hated vice-president.  These similarities are just the salient ones of dozens of other comparisons.  (I review The Assassination of Richard Nixon which also left me with the notion that we were sort of being primed for the more contemporary story to come).

Given this, I cannot recommend it.  If you are interested in the topic, then watch the real Frost-Nixon interviews.  If you are not interested at all, even the actual interviews are likely to bore you to tears.

If you opt to see this it is because of the “how” the story is told versus the “what” the story tells. 


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More Frost/Nixon reviews
review by . May 19, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
I went into Frost/Nixon expecting to see a political character drama which explored the more sensitive side of disgraced former President Richard Nixon. But Ron Howard's acclaimed movie isn't like that at all. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind you. It gives us a hero to root for and an evil Cobra Kai villain to throw our empty pop cans at. The light and dark warriors are established from the very beginning of the movie, and there is very little if anything done to remove Richard Nixon the …
review by . April 24, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Clever entertainment, with one of those wonderful, political non-apologetic apologies for a climax
Entertainment, Frost/Nixon is; history, of course, it's not. (But then who expects history from the movies?)       David Frost, if he doesn't hate Michael Sheen's amusing parody of himself, should. Sheen's Frost is a young man in love with the excitement and high life of being a television celebrity, as eager and quick as a chipmunk and as shallow as a plate.       The portrayal of Richard Nixon, however, is misleading. For the purposes …
review by . December 16, 2008
A better title for "Frost/Nixon" would be to replace the slash with a "vs.," to emphasize how director Ron Howard's latest generates exciting tension through a battle of the wits.    Set in 1977, the film chronicles how British television personality David Frost who in 1977 had the rare opportunity to interview and confront former president Richard Nixon on his abuse of governmental power without a public apology.  Frost sought to push his fame to new heights, while Nixon hoped to …
review by . February 23, 2009
Frost/Nixon Poster
  I'm now finishing this review post-oscars and I do have to say that Frost/Nixon got screwed a little bit. I could be wrong, but I don't think it won one Oscar. Ron Howard did such a wonderful job with this film just for the fact that he took something from the stage and put it to screen so I don't think this film got all the recognition it deserved.    Despite the fact that I wasn't around during the Nixon Administration or when the events of this film took place, …
review by . May 19, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
As historical fiction, this film is wonderful. I'm a history buff and I love seeing these critical moments in history dramatized. However, audiences that normally would never watch a documentary about Watergate can enjoy this film. The Nixon/Frost interviews are not the obvious choice for a historical drama about Nixon (the Watergate scandal itself seems the more obvious choice, as in "All the President's Men"). Yet, this film makes the run-up to the interview and the interview itself as dramatic …
review by . April 26, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
FROST/NIXON is one of the most successful screen adaptations of a play yet made. Perhaps that is due in part to the fact that the popular stage play by Peter Morgan was revised for the screen by the playwright, but it is also to the credit of director Ron Howard who managed to suffuse the 'play as movie' with such atmosphere and feeling of spontaneity that the rather long movie seems to whisk by more rapidly than history!    Everyone knows of the infamous David Frost interview …
review by . April 14, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Adapted from the fairly successful stage play, FROST/NIXON is a fictionalized account of the interview process and sessions that took place between world media darling David Frost (Michael Sheen) and former President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) in 1977. The film follows Frost as he seeks to get back into the big time (television in America) by gaining an exclusive set of interviews with Nixon to be broadcast on network television. Nixon has been living in relative seclusion since resigning from …
review by . April 30, 2009
This detailed recreation of David Frost's 1977 interviews with President Nixon is surprisingly engaging. The movie takes us back to a time when Presidents didn't pop up on every channel on a daily basis as they do now. Convincing Nixon to be interviewed following the Watergate scandal was quite a coup, even though Frost had a hard time selling it to networks and sponsors.     Michael Sheen (The Queen) portrays Frost as a confident, ambitious journalist and playboy. Frank Langella …
review by . April 11, 2009
What a mightily enjoyable film.     Frank Langella renders Richard Nixon as slower, older and heftier than he really was; somewhere between a punch drunk prize fighter and a waning silverbacked gorilla, snorting and puffing at the attentions of a glad-handing young dilettante. Michael Sheen plays that glad-handing dilettante, British talk show host David Frost in truth a little unevenly: at times caricaturing his bouffant mincing drawl like an effete Austin Powers, at times a …
review by . December 10, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
In March of 1977, British television personality David Frost interviewed former President of the United States Richard Nixon in a series of four ninety-minute installments. On the basis of the film that recreates these interviews, Ron Howard's "Frost/Nixon," I wish I had been around to see them when they originally aired. Partly, it has to do with the fact that they revealed a great deal about Nixon, and I'm not merely referring to historical facts; his on-camera mannerisms spoke volumes about him, …
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Sounds like a good match: a historical drama from the author ofThe Queen, but with an American subject in the generational wheelhouse of director Ron Howard. And so Peter Morgan's Tony-winning play morphs into a Hollywood movie under the wing of theApollo 13guy. Morgan's subject is a curious moment of post-Watergate shakeout: British TV host David Frost's long-form interviews with ex-President Richard Nixon, conducted in 1977. It was a big ratings success at the time, justifying the somewhat controversial decision to cut an enormous check for Nixon's services. The movie adds a mockumentary note to the otherwise straightforward style, having direct-to-camera addresses from various aides to Frost and Nixon (played by the likes of Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, and Kevin Bacon); these basically tell us things we already glean from the rest of the movie, adding unnecessary melodrama and upping the stakes. In this curious scheme, the success of Frost's career, which could bellyflop if he doesn't get something worthwhile out of the cagey, long-winded Nixon, is given somewhat more weight than the actual revelations of the interviews. Even with these questionable storytelling decisions, there's still the spectacle of two actors going at it hammer and tongs, and on that level the movie offers some heat. Michael Sheen, who played Tony Blair not only inThe Queenbut also in another Morgan-scripted project,The Deal, is adept at catching David Frost's ...
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Director: Ron Howard
Genre: Drama
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Peter Morgan
DVD Release Date: April 21, 2009
Runtime: 122 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios
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