Release Date: December 5th, 2008 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Ron Howard Actors: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall, Toby Jones, Kate Jennings Grant, Matthew Macfadyen
riven by an electrifying performance from Frank Langella as the controversial thirty-seventh President, “Frost/Nixon” plays out like a tense cat-and-mouse thriller – which is quite a feat for what is essentially a series of interviews. But all that conversing has never appeared more cinematic. Based on Peter Morgan’s play (with a screenplay by Morgan himself) and the true story of a talk show host who took on a political powerhouse, Ron Howard’s latest picture never backs down in its intense presentation of the struggle to bring closure to one of the most notorious conspiracies of all time.
When witty British television personality David Frost (Michael Sheen) plots his return to American primetime credibility with an in-depth, four-part interview with disgraced U.S. President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella), he quickly finds he’s in over his head. As the major studios turn down his offer, his investors rapidly withdraw funding, and his colleagues begin losing faith in their leader, Frost sees his chance at a comeback rapidly diminishing. With his political nemesis taunting him in mind games and verbal trickery, Frost must engage in a deceptive no-holds-barred game of wits, where only one man can walk away victorious.
Following in the footsteps of the original stage play’s sensational performances, Sheen and Langella feed off each other’s competitive energy to create a back-and-forth verbal jousting match in a dramatic attempt to dethrone the other’s position of confidence. But their strong contributions are not alone, as a top-notch supporting cast brilliantly succeeds in filling out the story behind the scenes. Most notable are Frost’s collaborators, played with fiery determination by Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, and Geoffrey Gould. Toby Jones and Kevin Bacon also offer fine performances as aides in Nixon’s camp.
“Frost/Nixon” makes use of a device remembered from such films as Warren Beatty’s “Reds,” in which key associates of the subject matter will intermittently recount commentary about the events that are unfolding onscreen (in this case they are the same actors in the film, where as in “Reds” they were real people). Though an unusual form of organization and narration, in “Frost/Nixon” it’s largely unnecessary – and less convincing. The use of this for storytelling purposes causes the film to have a pseudo-documentary feel, which slows things down while boosting realism for the setting; fortunately, the screenplay is so quick and compelling that it’s more of a white-knuckle thriller than a governmental melodrama.
As “Frost/Nixon” examines the tensions between the American people and their outrage over criminal, presidential acts, shown through a relentless cross-examination by a keen TV interviewer, it’s evident that this is the kind of underdog story Ron Howard is most comfortable with. And it’s the tightly-scripted political boxing match Oliver Stone wishes “W.” could have been. Filled with memorable performances from a highly talented cast, “Frost/Nixon” never falters in submersing its audience in the gripping verbal battles waged for closure, even with its limited action and stage play origins.
– The Massie Twins