Frost/Nixon | Movies | Palo Alto Online |

Movie Review


Frank Langella (left) and Michael Sheen in "Frost/Nixon"

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Rated R for some language. 2 hours, 2 minutes.
Publication date: Dec. 26, 2008
Review by Susan Tavernetti
Released: (2008)

Putting a human face on world leaders and delving into their power plays are strengths of British writer Peter Morgan. More complex than "The Queen" and less heavy-handed than "The Last King of Scotland," this adaptation of Morgan's acclaimed West End and Broadway hit skillfully transforms historical fact into one of the most riveting dramas of the year.

An overly confident "Tricky Dick" Nixon accepts "entertainer" David Frost's invitation to televise a series of interviews in 1977 -- for the right price. The stakes are high for both the disgraced former president and the underrated television talk-show host. And Nixon insists: No holds barred.

"Frost/Nixon" is more psychological cat-and-mouse game than verbal sparring match. Ron Howard directs the film at a breakneck clip, pausing only to reveal glimpses into each man's character. Frank Langella captures the essence of Richard Nixon without bearing a strong physical resemblance to him. Slightly stooped and imitating the speech patterns of the 37th President of the United States, Langella alternately displays arrogance, social awkwardness, caginess and endearing qualities. Nixon emerges as a complicated and sympathetic figure, not a sad one.

Michael Sheen, who portrayed Tony Blair so memorably in "The Queen," plays David Frost as the underdog -- a Rocky Balboa taking on a world champ. Although Cambridge-educated, the television personality seems like a lightweight. He interviews the Bee Gees one day, and hopes to land Nixon the next. But Frost assembles a crack production and research team (Matthew Macfadyen, Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell) as readily as picking up a new girlfriend (Rebecca Hall) during a flight to the States. He's smart. He's tenacious and hungry for success. Most importantly, he understands television.

Events kick off with a fast history lesson using actual news footage: the Watergate cover-up and hearings of 1972, the Supreme Court ruling to turn over the infamous Nixon audiotapes, and the notable day on which Nixon became the first president to resign in more than 200 years of American history. Then Morgan's efficient script gets personal and humorous, while methodically building to the big battle. Frost not only wants to give Nixon the trial that he never had but hopes for a public apology.

Moisture on Richard Nixon's lip during the televised debates with John F. Kennedy in 1960 might have cost him the presidency. "Frost/Nixon" makes the viewer sweat more than the two opponents under the hot lights. Engrossing emotionally and intellectually, this showdown shouldn't be missed.

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