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

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The Interviews That Stunned the World

  • Dec 10, 2008
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, from his carefully worded, intentionally long-winded answers to his damp upper lip and the handkerchief he used to blot it with. Screenwriter Peter Morgan, who adapted his own stage play, could have easily written Nixon as a tiresome cliché, a loathsome fallen hero who would live out his life in disgrace. Instead, he opted to reveal the humanity behind the presidency--he a deeply insecure man, self-destructive and paranoid, a non-people person that somehow got into a very gregarious position.

Frank Langella, reprising his stage role, gives one of the year's best performances as Nixon. He captures not only the man's distinctive voice, but also his sly sense of humor, one that seemed less like a personality quirk and more like a defense mechanism. It's quite possible it was the last line of communication; it's no secret that the real Nixon hated the press, and for all intents and purposes, the press hated him back, especially after a string of political errors--not the least of which was the Watergate scandal--led to his 1974 resignation. There's a certain dignity to the way the film handles these aspects of Nixon's life, although it may have been nothing more than an act of desperation on his part. Despite his troubled past and stormy presidency, he clung to the hope that he would somehow secure his legacy. It's no wonder, then, that he accepted Frost's offer for a series of interviews (which would come along with a check for $600,000 and a share of the interview's profits).

Here enters Frost (Michael Sheen, also reprising his stage role), who found moderate success in England, Australia, and the United States as a broadcaster of sorts. He's initially portrayed as a deeply charismatic playboy--sociable, laidback, and witty, a man that, according to Morgan, would consider a cocktail party his natural habitat. His love of women is more or less pushed aside in favor of his one relationship with Caroline Cushing (Rebecca Hall), who--in the film, at least--falls for Frost as he flies to Los Angeles for the Nixon interviews. But as the film progresses, he gradually reveals himself as a man desperate to be a part of the journalistic in-crowd, especially in America, where success is "unlike success anywhere else." While bothered by Nixon's denial of the Watergate cover-up, the truth is that Frost was also hoping for the interviews to revive his career.

And that's the genius of this movie: It shows how both men are more alike than they are different. They're moral opponents, yet they clamor to stay in the spotlight, and they rely heavily on teams to see them through the momentous debates. Frost and his producer, John Birt (Matthew Macfadyen), join ranks with executive producer Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt) and writer James Reston, Jr. (Sam Rockwell), both serving as researchers. Both men have reputations on the line, which is problematic given Frost's financial problems, the money for the interviews coming out of his own pocket. It doesn't help that Reston is hell bent on cornering Nixon and making him look like a fool. As Nixon approaches the interview site--a suburban home--Reston glances out the window and sees him in person for the first time: "He's taller than I imagined," he says to Zelnick. "Tanned. The least he can do is look ravaged."

Nixon's team is led by Lieutenant Colonel Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon), who also distrusts the media. He sees Frost not as an interviewer, but as a dangerous intruder who's intellectually beneath him. He goes through the entire film fiercely protective of Nixon, going so far as to call Frost and threaten to ruin him should he decide to ask questions that shouldn't be asked.

The interview scenes are works of art in and of themselves, masterfully combining verbatim dialogue with strategic camerawork. So much could have gone wrong, here; Howard could have filmed bland debate scenes, with generic wide shots of two people sitting across from each other. Thankfully, he uses clever close-ups and the natural pacing of the interviews to build tension. The first interview is rough on Frost, who barely had time to pose questions between Nixon's drawn-out musings. And this is despite the inflammatory nature of the first question, "Why didn't you burn the tapes?" But the suspense steadily grows, and it doesn't pause between interviews. Case in point: The climactic phone call between Nixon and Frost the night before the final interview. To describe the scene or quote lines of dialogue would do you a great disservice; let's just say that it's the perfect precursor to the next scene, when Frost takes off his journalistic gloves and lets Nixon have it.

I find it amazing that thriller-like elements are utilized so successfully in a film that's essentially a character study. Were it nothing more than a political commentary, "Frost/Nixon" would be tragically uninspired, even with the casting of wonderful actors like Langella and Sheen. This movie consistently surprised me, first with its ability to humanize the main characters, then with Morgan's willingness to blend history with drama, then with his thought-provoking dialogue, then with Howard's attention to the smallest details, like hand gestures and the placement of each character in a shot. The most surprising thing of all was the way Nixon regarded his adversary with a restrained sense of respect and admiration, someone worthy of a good debate. This is one of the year's best films.

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May 19, 2011
I think I saw your review in amazon before but it is nice to read it again! You have quite a remarkable writing style. Thanks!
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 . May 15, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
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 …
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Chris Pandolfi ()
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Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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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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