The Story: British talk show host and playboy David Frost (Michael Sheen) attempts to get some controversy by interviewing disgraced President, Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) only three years after his resignation from office over the Watergate scandal. With only the support of his three colleagues and zero outside funding Frost attempts to give Nixon the trial he never had, but with all the odds against him will it ever happen?
Pros: I’ve only ever read about Watergate and had no prior knowledge of the Frost/Nixon interviews (ah the glory of YouTube). Director Ron Howard gives a comprehensive look at the entire process of how David Frost successfully convicted Nixon through the media, from his uphill battle to raise funding and shedding his “performer”-like image, to showing how Nixon desperately yearned for acceptance, even at the risk of his career. Howard doesn’t attempt to glorify or say that what Nixon did was right, only that Nixon saw it was right as so eloquently put in the line that is in all the ads “when the President does it, it’s not illegal.” Nixon and Frost have an electrifying battle of wills between them and it comes together in a haunting and drunken phone call placed by Nixon to Frost where he essentially says he’ll beat the reporter down. These two men weren’t backing down and it all plays off as riveting and nail-biting. While the two main characters are listed in the title this movie isn’t just about them, it’s also about the other people who risked their careers to see these interviews go on from the successful Nixon author played by Sam Rockwell to an outcast ABC producer played by Oliver Platt. Howard is always brilliant at getting the best out of all the characters and it works so great here. Writer Peter Morgan, who received accolades for his work on The Queen, does it again with some brilliant rapid-fire dialogue. I’ve never seen that play Frost/Nixon but if the dialogue is a direct translation then fans of the stage play will adore this. For a movie that focuses on two characters and only a few locations this movie is riveting and fascinating, enough to make you seek out the real interviews if you’ve never seen them, or rewatch them if it’s been awhile.
Cons: This is a straight up “Oscar” type movie so that really says a lot about the movie right there. There is no action, and it is all dialogue driven. At a little over two hours it meanders to get to the main debate, dealing with Watergate, and that comes at the end of the movie. There were a few moments where I looked at my watch and that’s mostly because the first hour is purely exposition on Frost getting the money and setting up the interviews. If you’re not a fan of dialogue heavy movies or a slow pace then you will be bored to tears with this movie. I also had a hard time remembering who people were. Their names are shown throughout the movie but it was a bit difficult remembering all the Watergate players and some of the other characters. If you have no knowledge of Watergate at all you will be completely lost.
Cast: Ron Howard always puts together excellent actors and Frost/Nixon is no exception. The two heavyweights, Frank Langella and Michael Sheen are nothing short of extraordinary. Langella recently received a Golden Globe nomination for his work as Richard Nixon and it’s easily deserved. The man plays the President as regal, manipulative, and at the end lonely and hungry for acceptance. You really see all the emotions on Langella’s face and once he’s beaten down at the end you really feel it. His final scene with Frost where he’s questioning him about his excessive lifestyle is sad to watch because he seems to ache to be where the playboy is. Much like Josh Brolin recently did in W, while Langella may not look like Nixon by the end of the movie you see the President 100%. One cannot ignore Michael Sheen and hopefully he will be recognized for his amazing turn here as well. As David Frost he plays him both as the Hollywood ladies man, and the devoted talk show host who wants to be seen as a journalist. He just hits it home and you’re stuck on the edge of your seat when he faces off against the President. Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell continue to provide understated performances, as Frost’s colleagues Bob Zelnick and James Reston respectively. They provide a lot of the humor and Rockwell especially plays his role as the voice of the American people. Matthew Macfadyn and Rebecca Hall are good in their small roles but they don’t seem entirely necessary, more like set dressing. The weakest link has to be Kevin Bacon as Jack Brennan, Nixon’s former Chief of Staff. He plays the role so over the top and uber-patriotic that you kind of laugh when he’s on-screen.
Overall: I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Frost/Nixon. It’s definitely a contender come Oscar time, mostly due to how Oscar friendly it is, but with some stellar performances and a fascinating subject matter it’s a movie to seek out. I give it a strong 4/5.