Thursday, August 12, 2010

Frost/Nixon

Posted as part of Operation 101010
Category: impulse buys / In category: 6 of 10 / Overall: 53 of 100

Why buy?
It was in one of those “3 for £10” sales.

And?


I’d missed it on the big screen.

And?

Michael Sheen and Frank Langella don’t, as a general rule, give bad performances.

The expectation
A well-acted, if talky, drama. An intelligent script. Another great Michael Sheen performance.

The actuality
‘Frost/Nixon’ is indeed a well-acted drama. Is it talky? Oh, you betchya! It’s a film based on a stage play based on a series of interviews, that’s how talky it is. Fortunately, director Ron Howard structures a pacy first half ensuring that, by the time the aesthetic boils down to two men in suits sitting opposite each other, there’s enough at stake for both characters to make the stand-off (or rather, the talk-off) riveting.

And it does indeed have an intelligent script (Peter Morgan, take a bow). A parallel is swiftly established between social-climbing British TV presenter David Frost (Sheen) and disgraced former president Richard Nixon (Langella) which is crucial to the film’s structure and internal dynamic, but is never forced. Frost is a wannabe cut-and-thrust current affairs presenter whose career, at this point, has offered him little beyond unctuous chat-show host duties. Nixon is trying to cling on to the cachet of having been C-in-C, but the weight of public opinion threatens to overwhelm him. Frost has something to prove; Nixon has something to exculpate, justify or apologise for. Frost sees Nixon as his ticket to a heavyweight career; Nixon sees Frost as a pliable nobody. Each man has an agenda; each has something to lose and something to gain. There are other contrasts/comparisons. Frost’s uneasy relationship with his producer – and future Director General of the BBC, John Birt (Matthew Macfadyen) – and his researchers Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt) and James Reston Jnr (Sam Rockwell) is effectively contrasted with Nixon’s tight-knit entourage, headed up by Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon).

Another great Michael Sheen performance? All things considered, yes. He doesn’t quite capture Frost as definitively as he nailed Brian Clough in ‘The Damned United’, but it’s so close it hardly matters. In the interests of fairness, Frank Langella probably wins out by a short head: his is an assured, seemingly effortless performance that suggests Nixon rather relying on impersonation. Not that anybody else in the cast is a slouch. The aforementioned Macfadyen, Platt, Rockwell and Bacon do sterling work. Elsewhere, Rebecca Hall – as Frost’s love interest – takes a nothing role and transforms herself into the beating heart of every scene she’s in. I’ve loved Rebecca Hall in everything I’ve seen her in (most notably ‘The Prestige’) but I don’t think she’s ever had the chance to be as sparky and sexy as she is in ‘Frost/Nixon’.

Ron Howard’s direction is mainly obtrusive. He has – and justifiably so – confidence in his cast to hold the viewer’s attention. There is one lapse into cliché (the montage sequence in which the hitherto blasé Frost finds an anomaly in the Nixon transcripts that his diligent researchers inexplicably missed) and the bathetic coda which seeks to humanise Nixon seems at odds with everything that has gone before, but all things considered ‘Frost/Nixon’ proves that you can expend whole chunks of screen time on visually restricted dialogue scenes and still emerge with a gripping piece of cinema.

Good buy/bad buy?
Good buy. Not a film to watch over and over, but one to reapproach every couple of years or so and appreciate.

4 comments:

The Film Connoisseur said...

Saw this one a few months ago and loved it. I've always known NIXON was one of the worst presidents in history, but damn, that dialog they have in the film of him saying over a telephone conversation that he wanted to "eliminate the Kennedy Clan" that shit was crazy.

I mean when he says that Presidents are above the law...freaking nuts!

I just started watching Oliver Stone's JFK (which I had not seen yet) yesterday (have to finish it today) but Im really starting to despise NIXON more than I did.

And Ill be seeing Stone's NIXON next...so I guess by the ending of that one, Ill really have a complete picture of the guy. I mean, damn, he truly was a gangster/president.

Interesting how in FROST/NIXON Howard portrays him at not so much as a monster (the way he is usually portrayed) but merely as a flawed human being, you almost feel pity for the bastard in the films last frames, ALMOST.

I enjoyed the medias ferocity in trying to expose the bastard...I mean, I would love it if the media had that kind of balls nowadays. But what the heck, those were the 70s, a totally different time, people seemed to have more ferocity to them. Even the news sometimes felt like it had a glimpse of honesty to it...not so much now.

Neil Fulwood said...

Thanks for the comment, Francisco. Have you seen the original interview footage when Nixon tells Frost "When the President does it, that means it is not illegal". It's jaw-dropping. There's something in Nixon's eyes when he says it that tells you the man was completely disconnected from any conventional form of morality.

Let me know what you think of Oliver Stone's 'Nixon'. I found it a much more sympathetic film than I'd anticipated. My expectation was that Stone would go to work on Nixon quite savage, but actually he strives to present a balanced view.

There's a brilliant biography of Nixon by Anthony Summers called 'The Arrogance of Power'. If you're starting to despise Nixon now, wait till you read this book - you'll be livid with hatred at the man.

J.D. said...

yeah, I really dig Stone's take on NIXON and the film itself is a marvel of editing and cinematography. I really felt like Stone got under Nixon's skin and showed what made the man tick and what motivated him to do what he did.

I also really enjoyed FROST/NIXON if only to see Sheen and Langella go at it. I'm not a huge Ron Howard fan but I like how he stayed out of the actors' way and let them do their thing and when you have the caliber of actors that he had, that's the best thing to do.

Neil Fulwood said...

Agreed. Ron Howard made the best decision possible in allowing this to be the actors' film, not the director's.