Friday, March 27, 2009

Frost/Nixon (Rhoades)

‘Frost/Nixon’ Is A Great Debate

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Remember when an opportunistic British talk-show host named David Frost thought he could make a quick buck by holding a series of televised interviews – debates, as it were – with dethroned US President Richard M. Nixon. And Tricky Dick thought he could pocket a quick six-hundred grand by agreeing.

Nixon felt he was crossing swords with a lesser opponent, and perhaps he was. But the 37th President of the United States didn’t recognize his own hubris – ego, greed, heavy drinking, and the imperious belief that “when the President does it, that means it’s not illegal.”

Frost himself was a cool customer, maintaining a reassuring grin even when TV networks were turning him down and sponsors were balking at the absurdity of an entertainer conducting a serious political interview. He didn’t break sweat, even knowing that everything he owned was on the line with this foolhardy venture.

This 1977 real-life event is brilliantly reflected in “Frost/Nixon,” the docudrama that opened on Friday at the Tropic Cinema.

Frank Langella (once a handsome leading man best known for portraying the suave vampire in “Dracula”) gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Richard Nixon. Right down to the voice, the nuances, the physicality, the essence of the man.

And English actor Michael Sheen (he made a great Tony Blair in “The Queen”) comes off well as David Frost.

Rounding out the cast is ever-present Kevin Bacon as Col. Jack Brennan, Nixon’s loyalist aide de camp; Oliver Platt as Frost’s chief researcher; Sam Rockwell as James Reston Jr., the writer who turned up the smoking-gun memo; Matthew Macfadyen as Frost’s nervous producer; and Rebecca Hall as the talk-show host’s new girlfriend.

“Frost/Nixon” was based on a well-received stage play, but the film is presented with a documentary style that makes you forget these are actors mouthing the famous lines and not a newsreel.

And the way the film unfolds the storyline will keep you on the edge of your chair, even if in the back of your mind you already know the historic outcome – Nixon trapped into an admission of his own guilt on national television, his blind hopes for a political return forever dashed by a man he’d underestimated.

You are reminded of bits of history that may have slipped your mind: That TV’s Diane Sawyer was then working for the Nixon camp. That legendary Hollywood agent Swifty Lazar was handling Nixon’s book and interview deals. That Nixon brought an end to the Viet Nam War.
One moment of irony is when Frank Langella (who at one time dated Whoopi Goldberg) speaking as Nixon expresses shock that Frost had nearly married black actress Dianne Carroll.

Why should we be surprised that this is a superb little film? It was directed by Ron Howard, the former child star who has made his mark behind the camera with such memorable movies as “A Beautiful Mind,” “Apollo 13,” “The DaVinci Code,” “Splash,” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

Peter Morgan did the screenplay based on his own play. You’ve seen his writing in such films as “The Queen,” “The Other Boleyn Girl,” and “The Last King of Scotland.” He’s been ranked as Number 28 in the London Telegraph’s 2008 list of Most Powerful People in British Culture.

This film accomplishes the near-impossible: portraying Richard Nixon not just as a disgraced president, but turning him into a (albeit flawed) human being. Langella’s performance is spot-on; Howard’s directing is even-handed; and Morgan’s writing immaculate.

Langella’s Nixon brims with “dyspeptic melancholia, aggression, and self-pity.” Sheen’s Frost is a subtle mix of glibness, cockiness, and a pseudo self-confidence.

As the Village Voice put it , this was “a prize fight between two come-back hungry veterans, only one of whom could win.”

Some 400 million television viewers turned in to watch the Frost/Nixon interviews. It will be interesting to see if “Frost/Nixon” can approach that worldwide audience as a film. More likely, it will remain a little gem.
[from Solares Hill]

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