“Frost/Nixon” (quality rating: 9 out of 10)
Director: Ron Howard
Screenplay: Peter Morgan, based on his play
Cast: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Rebecca Hall
Rating: R (many sex references)
Time: 2 hr., 2 min.
Tight, compact history in riveting, magnetic interactions.
For viewers who don’t care about Richard Nixon? Yes. Fascinating.
“Frost/Nixon” is, plainly speaking, daring, innovative and mesmerizing. Daring, I say, because it’s very much a talky movie. It dares to rely on powerful, conflicting personalities to generate screen voltage. For two hours.
Done? Absolutely. The two personalities involved were giants in the art and skill of conversational one-upmanship, the deft manipulators of every element of drama at hand. These guys were operators. And neither, as their interview production developed, was aware of the massive personal resources in material, timing and tactics of the other.
And the stakes? Staggering. For one it would make or destroy his career. For the other, it would doom him to shame. In the actual play-by-play gamesmanship as the tapes roll, each is aware, step-by-step, second-by-second, of what a misstep will cost. A facial twitch too quick, a pace-changer miscalculated, a response a half-second too soon or too late, and the ball is in the other’s court.
Frank Langella as Nixon, and Michael Sheen as David Frost, are fine-tuned to a steel edge. Their charisma captivates and delightfully imprisons you.
As to split-second film edit timing, director Ron Howard is at the top of his game in this, rarely letting a critical conversation piece scene roll too long or too short.
Result: a brilliantly managed entertainment piece, politically illuminating and provocative.
This, based on Peter Morgan’s play, is of the 1977 TV interview, and the massively complex preparations, between the disgraced and resigned President Richard Milhous Nixon (Frank Langella) and the scintillating, opportunistic British TV personality and talkshow host David Frost (Michael Sheen). Morgan has become quite the specialist in probing into major modern world figures, such as in his “The Queen,” “The Deal” and “The Last King of Scotland.”
The Nixon project, along with its check to the order of Nixon himself for $600,000, was supposed to give the ex-prez a shot at redeeming himself, following which he could move back East and rejoin the powerbrokers of old.
We see Frost, who was at the time hosting an Australian TV show, tossing in quite a bankroll of his own to keep the project going.
Michael Sheen’s “David Frost” exudes his smart ladies-man demeanor, scoring with deftness, his breezy patter and quick wit disarming all, this in sharp contrast with Nixon, a brooding man of belabored spirit. But, in terms of ability in the jab and thrust of debate, a sleeping giant.
Frost, quick in banter and snappy in wordsmanship as he is, is also savvy enough to know that politics, especially in the hands of master manipulator “Tricky Dick,” could get him into big trouble in the coming interview. Accordingly, he takes on two master strategists, veteran reporter Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt) and big-time Nixon hater and street-smart journalist James Reston Jr.(Sam Rockwell). Reston sees the problem: Frost is so caught up with production details, he’s going to miss the chance to run Nixon through, in a sense, the court trial that never happened.
Along the way, in a 747 first-class cabin, Frost picks up young socialite Caroline Cushing (Rebecca Hall) on his way to meet Nixon at his California home.
Indeed, as the interview opens, Nixon dominates, throwing Frost off balance with long tales, looking presidential. Backstage conversation between the two also keeps Frost on edge, with Nixon cannily pressing him on sexual antics. This is going badly for Frost. That is, until the final interview, which is reserved for the Watergate scandal that brought Nixon down. The pressure upon Nixon can be cruelly crushing. And Frost knows it.
This film is recent history grandly and profoundly treated.
Marty Meltz is at http://www.martymoviereviews.com 30-year former films critic for the Award-winning Portland (Maine) Sunday Telegram. Offering right-to-the-point reviews that address directly the question of the film’s entertainment value to you. Films have personalities. It doesn’t matter who wrote it, who directs it, who stars in it, if it doesn’t reach out to you at your deepest levels. I examine its honesty and intelligence. Are you being respected, or are you being jerked around? How much did the film take on as a challenge? Did it pick up its point and run with it? Did you care about it? Does it care about you?