Wednesday, December 17, 2008


2008 looks like it will be ending quite strongly, with Frost/Nixon being among one of the award contenders. It tells the story behind the legendary 1977 interviews of Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) by David Frost (Michael Sheen). I've never seen a movie consisting almost entirely of interviews be so intense. This is Ron Howard's best movie in quite some time, possibly going all the way back Apollo 13 in 1995.

One interesting thing about this movie is that it was based on a play also written by Peter Morgan (who was nominated a few years ago for The Queen). Langella and Sheen both also starred in the stage production. It's fitting that a movie that is so dialog driven and so focused on one location would have been born on stage. Movies like this always seem to be better because of this, as opposed to being written originally for screen. Having the feel of the theater trims away all the fat, and just leaves the most important aspects.

The interviews could have gone one of two ways. Nixon was looking at them to clear himself and look presidential. Frost's team was hoping to "Give him the trial he never had," according to one of Frost's researchers- James Reston Jr. (Sam Rockwell). Reston, along with with John Birt (Matthew MacFayden) and Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt) scour every piece of evidence in hope of backing Nixon into a corner. Frost, on the other hand, is more concerned about ratings and money.

Frost's lack of preparation is evident when Nixon walks all over him during the first few interviews. Sheen captures this show-business freewheeling attitude wonderfully. It takes one of the most intense phone calls I've ever heard to whip Frost into shape. And from that point on, the interviews become a no holds barred battle.

Frank Langella deserves his recent Golden Globe nomination, and so far of the movies I've seen this year, he should win. He portrayed Nixon as simultaneously arrogant and fragile. Despite the failure of most of the interviews, they managed to capture Nixon in a vulnerable light that had never been seen before. Even without the climactic outburst featured so prominently in the trailers, it would have still been a breathtaking moment.

And the cast just goes on. Kevin Bacon, in what may be his first great dramatic role since Mystic River, plays Jack Brennan, military aid to the former president who will do anything to protect Nixon. And the criminally underrated Toby Jones (his Capote was equal or better than Phillip Seymour Hoffman's) plays legendary talent agent Swifty Lazar, representing Nixon to get the most out of the interviews.

It's not easy of make a movie about an interview and research exciting, but Ron Howard and the fantastic cast pulled it off. Everything from the tense scenes between Frost and Nixon to the sleepless nights with the researchers lend brevity to the importance of this event. Probably the highest praise I could bestow on this movie is that it makes me want to watch the actual interviews.


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