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

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4.5 stars. Two of the year's best performances!

  • Feb 12, 2009
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FROST/NIXON is an admirable and very enjoyable film. It can amuse, it can stir the intellect a bit, and it can cause one to think back on that bygone Watergate era.

It's one of those "historical" films where you know much of what you're seeing is invented...but you don't know what, exactly. That can be frustrating for many movie-goers. Did David Frost REALLY have all those troubles leading up to the interview? Did Nixon REALLY use those strategies? Did the Kevin Bacon character REALLY work for Nixon? Etc., etc., etc.

The film (based on a play of the same name) tells of the events leading up to the very famous, multi-day interview between disgraced former US president Richard Nixon and until then little known celebrity interviewer and talk-show host David Frost. Frost, a Brit who once had a little taste of success in America, yearns to make it big there again...but his fortunes are slipping a bit already. He takes a huge gamble (basically his entire net worth) to land a lengthy, in-depth interview with Nixon...a man who left wounds on America that were still fresh and open at the time.

Nixon, in the meantime, clearly wants to make a buck...but he also yearns to not only resurrect his image, but apparently actually dreams of returning to public life in a large capacity. He sees his chance to take advantage of this eager, inexperienced interviewer and polish his image.

What's fun about the film is that Michael Sheen (as Frost) and Frank Langella (as Nixon) dive into their roles with incredible fervor. They played these parts on Broadway, and I'd guess each of them saw a great chance to permanently seal their ties to this play. They act with great zest, but never get to the point of going too far...as we sometimes see when plays go to film (a la DOUBT). Poor Sheen, who also was so great as Tony Blair in THE QUEEN, once again is upstaged by a juicier part...but make no mistake; he's terrific in the part. We see Frost as an egotist who during the course of this project learns to mature. He develops a political sensibility, he develops as an interviewer and he even grows up a bit as a man. I enjoyed the minor side-story about his developing relationship with a lady he "picks up" on a plane trip, and how his growing attachment to her helps him stop acting quite so much like a little boy.

Nixon, too, struggles with some unattractive boyish characteristics. He's got an ego even huger than Frost's. He likes being catered to and he has a fiery temper. Yet he can be a disarmingly charming host, is clearly a lot smarter than he lets on, and he has the ability to at least fake a self-effacing sense of humor. And he sees through Frost and knows how to get under his skin.

It's this ability that makes the early rounds of their interview go so poorly for Frost. For 90% of the film, we can't help but admire Nixon. And this is the great strength of the film...it never takes a major side. You could say in the end Nixon looks like a "bad guy," but has anyone ever seriously denied that this man did some bad things? To me, in the end, Nixon was humbled but still engaging, intelligent and a little mischievous. I assumed the film would vilify him from beginning to end...but this did not end up being an Oliver Stone-like screed at all. I actually kinda liked the guy by the time it was over.

Sam Rockwell, the always enjoyable Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon and a fine supporting cast all do nice work...but the film comes down to the duel of words between the two title characters. The script gives them great material to work with and Sheen & Langella knock it out of the park!

In the end, FROST/NIXON doesn't stir any serious emotions. This keeps it from being right at the top of my "best of" lists. It's hard to imagine this subject matter could ever do that. Director Ron Howard does perfectly serviceable work, but it's clear he knows his main job is to let his two leads do their thing and to simply provide them with the best lighting and camera angles he can. But my wife and I spent a lot of time talking about it afterwards...which is always a good sign. And amazingly enough for a film that is mostly about two guys talking...I actually felt a few edge-of-your-seat moments. FROST/NIXON was a VERY pleasant surprise, and I strongly recommend it.

(I do wish it was easier to know what was true and what was "poetic license.")

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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 . 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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I've got my own site, www.afilmcritic.com, on which I'm posting my reviews. I am 46 years old, married 25 years, two kids (23 & 18) and currently work in accounting/finance. I spent 15 years … 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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