For three years after being forced from office, Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) remains silent. But in summer 1977, the steely, cunning former commander-in-chief agrees to a series of interviews -at a price - with David Frost (Michael Sheen) intending to easily outfox the breezy British showman and secure a better place in the hearts and minds of Americans. Likewise, Frost's team harbours doubts about their boss' ability to hold his own. But as the cameras roll, a charged battle of wits ensues.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Don't be surprised if David Frost fails to gush at Ron Howard's dramatised documentary about his milestone interview with Richard Nixon. This is no Frost fan film, and the celebrated talk show host is portrayed as rather ineffective for most of the film. Indeed, even when he scores the much sought after confession from Nixon about his moral failure as President, it is to some extent thanks to Nixon himself, who spurs him on with a challenge.
But the film's appeal goes, and begins, well before and beyond the re-enactment of those interview sessions, to the birth of the idea (credited to Frost), the lengthy and conflicted preparations with Frost's team, and the Nixon team's strategies. Ron Howard has turned the story into a psychological thriller, with the ballast of character study, with Peter Morgan's screenplay offering pathos and tragedy amidst the mechanics of a giant political interview, magnified by the close up that ironically reduces the dramatic contest to basic human elements. Frost and Nixon are at once enlarged by the lens and their stature lessened by the inspection. As Oscar Wilde said, truth is rarely pure and never simple - even if Peter Morgan's version of the truth is just that: his (well researched) version.
There are plenty of memory jogging insights into the momentous times in the mid 70s when the Watergate scandal was the daily political news diet of not just America but the world. Peter Morgan's script cuts through to the intense personal as well as political aspects, always in touch with the main characters who acted out this later part of the drama.
Nixon (Frank Langella) is presented as a complex, self analytical manipulator who finally says the words the American public have wanted to hear. Both Langella and Sheen deliver striking portrayals that avoid superficial mimicry for something more satisfying. The supporting cast are all superb, too, with Kevin Bacon a standout as Nixon's protective lieutenant, Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell as Frost's researchers desperate to see Nixon nailed, Toby Jones as Nixon's self-important literary agent and Rebecca Hall as Caroline, Frost's girlfriend.
Frost/Nixon will no doubt send many of us into research mode to review the historical context of these historic interview sessions.
Review by Louise Keller:
More thrilling than a boxing match with no punches spared, this riveting revisiting of a historic moment in time has a little bit of everything - humour, tension and an exposé of the most compelling ingredient of all - humanity. When disgraced former President Richard Nixon agreed to a 'no holds barred' interview with celebrity TV performer and interviewer David Frost in 1974, he got more than he bargained for. Much, much more. Frost Nixon is not just a story about the search for truth. It's a story about politics, money, fame, self-esteem and honesty, when there is everything to lose. But most importantly, it is a revealing human story that moves us to tears when we least expect it.
'The limelight can only shine on one of us,' Frank Langella's Richard Nixon tells Frost in a controversial telephone call one Friday night after several scotches and only days before the all-important fourth interview in which Watergate is to be the focus. It's an extraordinary scene in which we feel like a fly-on-the wall as we witness an outpouring from a man who admits 'no matter how high you get, it's still not enough'.
Screenwriter Peter Morgan (who also penned The Queen) has smartly adapted his stage play in a dramatic structure with documentary elements, while director Ron Howard has seamlessly melded it together with a solid gold cast headed by Michael Sheen as the ever-smiling 'Hello, Good Evening and Welcome' television host. Neither role is easy to pull off, yet both Sheen and Langella are a knockout.
Better known for his interviews with the likes of the Bee Gees, when Frost pitches his interview idea to his producer (Matthew Macfadyen) over a canteen lunch of beans, peas and lamb, we understand immediately why he wants to do it. 'Success in America is unlike success anywhere else,' he says. In his corner is recruited a formidable team: Rockwell as Nixon critic and Oliver Platt as his strategist. There's also Rebecca Hall's leggy girlfriend Caroline Cushing who he meets in the pointy end of the Concorde cabin en route to Nixon's Californian mansion. In Nixon's corner, Kevin Bacon gives a top performance as his loyal and protective Chief of Staff and Toby Jones makes his mark as Nixon's hygiene-obsessed, money-hungry agent, who lives up to his nickname of 'Swifty'.
It's an emotion-filled journey and one in which we learn a lot about both Frost and Nixon. It comes as somewhat a surprise, they have much in common. But it's no surprise that Frost is a man who understands television and instinctively knows the full impact of 'the reductive power of the close up'. Unforgettable, involving and thoroughly entertaining, this is bitingly brilliant cinema.
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CAST: Michael Sheen, Frank Langella, Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon, Rebecca Hall, Matthew Macfadyen, Oliver Platt, Toby Jones, Eve Curtis, Patty McCormack, Kimberley Joseph, Mark Simich
PRODUCER: Ron Howard, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Brian Grazer
DIRECTOR: Ron Howard
SCRIPT: Peter Morgan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Salvatore Totino
EDITOR: Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill
MUSIC: Hans Zimmer
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Michael Corenblith
RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2008