Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

Frosty Dick

Frost/Nixon is an very unflashy film with an extremely accomplished cast, including Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt and Matthew Macfadyen, and they all do quite good work in the film. But the centerpiece of this movie is Frank Langella's outstanding central performance as Richard Milhouse Nixon, a role that he won a Tony award for on stage and that he brings to the screen with a conviction and gravitas that makes the viewer almost forget what the actual Nixon looked like for the duration of the movie without imitation.

Ron Howard's film has an extremely deliberate pace, first gradually leading up to the notorious interview, then illustrating how it was a lopsided battle of wills between Frost's research team, Bob Zelnick (Platt) and James Reston, Jr. (Rockwell), who are out for an on-air confession, and Nixon's own intelligence with Frost himself (Sheen) almost caught in the middle. The tension of the story is based not upon a physical confrontation but upon the intellectual confrontation of the interviews themselves, and a collision of culture and politics. In order for one to succeed, the other must fail, and Nixon is by far the smarter of the two.

There are some areas where accuracy is sidestepped for drama, especially towards the end. Some of the conclusions of the piece are accurate: Frost could only get his confession from Nixon should Nixon have wanted to give it to him; others not so much: yes, Nixon admitted to tarnishing the White House, but it was as carefully orchestrated an event as anything else he did. In fact, there is a late-night phone call depicted that strains believability for that very reason.

Unfortunately the areas of the film that take the greatest dramatic license are focused upon with faux documentary footage of the actors commenting on events as the characters they play, which I don't feel works as well as it should. If it was an aspect of the original play, it is one of the things that perhaps should have been looked at critically in the adaptation. I can accept Bacon, Platt and Rockwell in their roles, but to have them editorializing on the story as it unfolds is not only distracting, they seem to offer too much 'on the nose,' as it were. And while Reston's comments at the end of the film about the nature of television are extremely relevant (and perhaps could have been retained in a different format), they imply that the final interview gave America the catharsis it needed to move on from Watergate, but far from damning Nixon, the interviews allowed him to appear contrite enough to re-enter public life advising Ronald Reagan and as a best-selling author.

But overall, the film is successful because Frank Langella's performance allows it to be a rumination not so much on the abuses of power but what occurs when someone who has been trusted must own up to violating that trust and why they might do such a thing. The movie does not forgive him for what he did, but as much as some of the characters within it would like to demonize them if they could, the film doesn't take the easy way out and do that either. It may not be perfectly balanced, but if viewed more as drama than as history, it doesn't necessarily have to be.
Tags: cinema, reviews
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