Frost/Nixon goes to tape

By Gus Bode

Wes Lawson

Daily Egyptian

[email protected]



Rated R

Starring: Michael Sheen, Frank Langella, Toby Jones, Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon

Directed by Ron Howard

Run time: 122 minutes

Grade: B


About midway through ‘Frost/Nixon,’ one of the characters has this insight: ‘The first and greatest sin of the deception of television is that it simplifies; it diminishes great, complex ideas, trenches of time; whole careers become reduced to a single snapshot.’

The same could be said not only about Richard Nixon’s life, but about the film ‘Frost/Nixon,’ which distills six hours of television and weeks of behind the scenes footage into a two hour film, providing a snapshot into one of the most watched television interviews of all time. The film is quite good, and there are some incredibly compelling passages, but it lacks that extra something to make it a truly great film.

The film is based on the 1977 interview between David Frost (Sheen) and Richard Nixon (Langella). It was a strange sort of interview. Frost had spent the majority of the last few years doing puff pieces, and Nixon had retreated into solitude after the Watergate fiasco. But when Nixon resigns, frost sees it as an opportunity.

Through begging, borrowing, and the hiring of two crackpot researchers (Oliver Platt and Rockwell), Frost manages to come up with $600,000, mostly out of his own pocket, to pay Nixon for the interview. The interview was aired in four 90 minute specials, but Frost and Nixon talked for something in the range of 28 hours, and we see how Nixon stalls, fumbles, and wholeheartedly denies Frost’s questions.

The film gives us a fascinating eye view into the behind the scenes of this interview. From the researching of Nixon to the ways that Nixon’s publicist (Jones) and chief of staff (Bacon) attempt to dissuade him from directly answering any questions, the film manages to move at a steady clip. Sadly, none of these scenes pack much emotional resonance. They are compelling to watch, but they don’t burrow in the brain the way they should. Watching Nixon psych out Frost by asking him about his sexual habits is amusing, but what does it really tell us about who these men were?

The film’s crucial scene, which definitely revitalizes the proceedings, comes near the ‘frac34; mark. Nixon calls Frost late in the night and delivers a drunken tirade. The next day, when the final interview is taking place, Nixon can’t remember what he was talking about to Frost. Now the film becomes something of a thriller, as we truly have no idea what Nixon is going to admit to on the air.

Ultimately, Nixon simply admitted much of what the public already knew, but it was enough to exonerate him for many years to come. It’s interesting that he was able to so exonerate himself, because in watching the interviews, we never get the sense that Nixon was truly sorry for anything that he did. Perhaps he wasn’t. Alas, it is lost to history, as Nixon is dead.

Ron Howard, who has made a career out of catering to bland, safe tastes, has certainly crafted his most slick and compelling film since 1995’s ‘Apollo 13,’ but he also dips a bit too heavily into the safety of stock footage, making sure that the audience absolutely knows what is going on at any given time. Certainly not a bad thing to make sure that the audience is keeping up, but a couple of newsreels into the film, the audience gets the picture.

The writing by Peter Morgan, who wrote the play the film is based on, is also uniformly good, providing insight without beating the audience over the head with the plot points.

The best thing about ‘Frost/Nixon’ is the performances. Langella has already received apt credit for his Nixon by getting the Oscar nomination, and he should. His Nixon is completely three dimensional and interesting to watch.

The real discovery here, though, is Michael Sheen, who has starred in numerous films but here gets his chance to truly shine in a leading role. Without his’ character, the movie would fall apart.

Also worth noting is Rebecca Hall, who meets Frost on a plane and becomes his lover. Her character is a bit superfluous, but she gives a great performance and solidifies herself as an actress to watch.

‘Frost/Nixon’ is far from the year’s best film, but it certainly is an interesting one, and one worth seeing. For even more interesting insight, check out the Frost/Nixon interviews that have just been released on DVD, and imagine what was really going on while they were talking off screen.

Wes Lawson can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 275.