Movie News

Capone loves the verbal battlground of FROST/NIXON!!!

Published at: Dec. 5, 2008, 7:02 a.m. CST

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here. The greatest feeling I get from any film is one of inspiration. Sometimes the inspiration is simply to feel something more than I did when I first sat down to watch the movie. Other times I'm driven to act or think a little differently about a person or circumstances than I did previously. And in the case of many of the films featuring screenplays by Peter Morgan (THE QUEEN, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND), I'm inspired to dig a little deeper into the real events that inspired him to write his extraordinary story-behind-the-story works. With THE QUEEN, Morgan wanted to show us how an entire nation's feeling toward its monarchy shifted as a result of a tragedy. And with FROST/NIXON, based on Morgan's celebrated play, he delivers to us the inner workings of one of the most legendary television interview programs in history, an interview that not only was the informal trial of Richard Nixon that the nation never got thanks to Gerald Ford's knee-jerk pardon of Nixon when he took office, but also the opportunity for Nixon to essentially apologize to the nation for shaming the office of President. It might seem like old hat today to look upon the office of president with some amount of disdain (both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both have much to answer for), but at the time--the summer of 1977--the nation was still hurting deeply from a single man who resigned from the office without a hint of apology or admission of wrong doing. In an early scene in FROST/NIXON (set three years prior to the interviews), David Frost (played to perfection by Michael Sheen, who did an equally fine job as Tony Blair in THE QUEEN) has just finished taping his Australian talk show when he catches live footage of Nixon leaving the White House and getting onto the helicopter that took him away. He sees the smiling face of Richard Nixon (Frank Langella, who won a Tony for played the role on Broadway), but just before he turns to get on the helicopter, the facade drops and the face of ultimate defeat shows itself. I have no idea if Nixon really looked that way upon his departure, but the scene shows the spark of inspiration that drove Frost to ask for the face to face with Nixon. The wheeling and dealing that went on in both the Nixon and Frost camps are nearly as fascinating as the interviews themselves, which lasted more than 24 hours in total over the span of 12 sessions. Major players surrounding Nixon include his literary agent Irving "Swifty" Lazar (Toby Jones, who most recently played another legendary snake, Karl Rove, in W.) and Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon), a fiercely loyal protector and yes man. The first meeting between Nixon and Frost is quite telling. Frost brings a beautiful woman (Rebecca Hall) he met on the plane ride from London as well as his producer, John Birt (Matthew Macfadyen). Frost was a notorious playboy, one of many traits that made the Nixon people think he would be a better person to lob softball questions than, say, Mike Wallace. FROST/NIXON does a fantastic job detailing exactly what each man had at stake by "winning" these interviews. Obviously Nixon was attempting to seem presidential and regain a reputation lost and remind the nation that his time as commander-in-chief was more than just Watergate and Vietnam. Frost had a career and pretty much every penny he owned invested in this production. Although he'd interviewed political heavy hitters prior to Nixon, clearly he was beginning to wonder if he was in over his head intellectually. For 11 of the 12 interviews, it certainly seemed that way. Special acknowledgement should be given to the great team of Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell, who play Frost's primary researchers and question writers Bob Zelnick and James Reston Jr. These two do the greatest job of putting things in perspective for both Frost and us. While Reston is the emotional player who wants nothing short of vigilante justice for Nixon, Zelnick is the balancing force who remembers that the best way to get Nixon is through more subtle means rather than pulling the knife out on the first day. Platt and Rockwell are the film's secret weapon, as they provide the biggest laughs along with the greatest insight into all of the characters. Perhaps my favorite sequence is a dry run the two have with Frost, with Platt taking on the part of Nixon. I've deliberately left out the name of director Ron Howard from my review up to this point because for some unknown reason, his name sometimes gets a negative reaction from people, which makes no sense to me. If the only other movie he had ever made besides Frost/Nixon were APOLLO 13, I would still consider him the most qualified director to make this movie. His approach to the two works is remarkably similar, and he clearly holds the belief that the truth is always infinitely more interesting than fiction. Sure, he's made a few adjustments to the facts to up the dramatic kick of the story, but nothing truly vital has been altered. The tension he manages to derive from a conversation is remarkable. The film's only flaw in my mind is the inclusion of a series of interviews with some of supporting players (primarily with the actors playing Reston, Zelnick and Birt) meant to appear like they were taking place years after the interviews. They serve as a kind of narration and insightful commentary on the mindset of the two leading characters, but I don't think they were necessary or vital to the telling of this story. In some instances, they seem like lazy shortcuts, and I wish Howard had chosen to show and not tell. But these inserts are few and far between, especially as the film goes on, and they don't even come close to ruining the flow the this otherwise flawless work. What I particularly liked about FROST/NIXON is that it manages to keep things simple and streamlined, using just the right number of select scenes to capture the personalities of its subjects, while never forgetting that the interviews were where history was made. Despite Zelnick and Reston's best efforts not to let Nixon look sympathetic, in the end FROST/NIXON comes darn close to doing just that, especially in the scenes where Nixon essentially spills his guts to Frost. The film reminds us that demonizing someone rarely gets the heart of why someone did what they did. A strange and almost scary late-night phone call between Frost and Nixon on the eve of their final interview reveals more about the former president in a five-minute conversation than anything in Oliver Stone's NIXON, a film I've always admired. FROST/NIXON is proof that just hearing somebody out or letting a situation carry out to its natural conclusion is enough to get people glued to their seats. I know a lot of critics are calling this Howard's finest film, but for me, that's hard to say, because in the end it really doesn't matter. Howard isn't imposing himself on this film, so I applaud him for standing aside and letting the words and gripping acting take center stage. This is a remarkable movie that never tries to be remarkable or overly dramatic. Things happen, lives change, but the world keeps turning. It seems simple and obvious, but so few filmmakers understand or convey that in their works. FROST/NIXON gets it and gets it right. -- Capone capone@aintitcoolmail.com



Readers Talkback

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  • Dec. 5, 2008, 7:04 a.m. CST

    I'm/first

    by BeeDub

    Ha, see what I did there?

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 7:21 a.m. CST

    I'm totally in for this one

    by IAmMrMonkey!

    Everything I've read makes this sound like a great movie and this review reinforces it. Peter Morgan is slowly becoming one of my favourite writers.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 7:21 a.m. CST

    Damn You Michael Bay

    by MCMLXXVI

    Damn You Michael Bay

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 7:21 a.m. CST

    Damn You MCMLXXVI

    by IAmMrMonkey!

    Damn You MCMLXXVI

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 7:25 a.m. CST

    Okay, but where are the Punisher reviews...

    by DerLanghaarige

    ...that are not by Massawyrm?

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 7:34 a.m. CST

    Battleground

    by Grammaton Cleric Binks

    That is all.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 7:35 a.m. CST

    Paul Benedict just died

    by Grammaton Cleric Binks

    He was the Jeffersons' neighbor, and was on Sesame Street.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 7:40 a.m. CST

    ol Slick Willy paid his dues when he was impeached...

    by PotSmokinAlien

    I don't expect to see GWB being tried for war crimes any time soon, though, and that's what it'd take for that guy to 'answer for' some of the shit that went down in the last 8 years.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 7:40 a.m. CST

    btw, about the Nixon tapes:

    by PotSmokinAlien

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 7:42 a.m. CST

    oops

    by PotSmokinAlien

    when nixon talks about "that whole bay of pigs thing?" He's talking about the Kennedy assassination. The whole history of Nixon trying to become President is fucking fascinating. George W Bush's grandfather Prescott Bush (who loaned the Nazi party millions of dollars in the 1930s) was trying to make it happen even before JFK was on the scene.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 7:49 a.m. CST

    Sometimes with a Great Script/Source Material and Actors...

    by Aquatarkusman

    ... all the director has to do is point and shoot, which is good, because Howard definitely hasn't shown the innovation to do much more.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 8:11 a.m. CST

    Bay of Pigs

    by harmil

    PotSmokinAlien, the Bay of Pigs was the attempted overthrow of the Cuban government by Cuban rebels supported by the U.S. CIA during the Kennedy administration. It occurred before and had nothing to do with Kennedy's assassination.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 8:20 a.m. CST

    This and Benjamin Button...

    by Gabba-UK

    are my two must see movies this Christmas. 2008 has been a pretty good year for film and these two should end it on a high.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 8:53 a.m. CST

    I can't imagine it deletes monstrosities...

    by TroutMaskReplicant

    ...like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code from people's minds. But it is nice to see a much maligned director do something good for a change. A pleasant surprise.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 9:26 a.m. CST

    Fuck this movie. GIVE US PUNISHER!!

    by DANNYGLOVERS_DICKBLOOD

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 10:49 a.m. CST

    Just compare where the country was at after their terms...

    by blackmantis

    ...and I think you can see who has more to answer to.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 12:17 p.m. CST

    Amen, TroutMaskReplicant

    by pilotgrl

    I did enjoy Apollo 13 (and Splash) and maybe a few others but Beautiful Mind, in particular, was truly awful. Ron Howard has an insulting habit of "spelling" things out to viewers that would be just as easily and more subtlely done (was it really necessary for Nash to outline the umbrella in the starts in A Beautiful Mind?). Jennifer Connelly's performance was overrated as well. One of the few films that actually made me actively angry was Far and Away. What a waste of studio and consumer money... Frost/Nixon, however, does look appealing.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 2:50 p.m. CST

    Thanks for the review, Capone

    by bravogolfhotel

    I run hot and cold on Howard's films, but you make it sound like an exciting two hours in the dark.

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 3:15 p.m. CST

    AROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    I didn't survive the centuries just to look at a man's gizmo!

  • Dec. 5, 2008, 5:12 p.m. CST

    Nixon > Bush

    by Luscious.868

    They are both criminals but at least Nixon had the good sense to resign.

  • Dec. 6, 2008, 5:57 a.m. CST

    Nixon

    by Shan

    I don't think Nixon had a choice about resigning as they would definitely have impeached him if he didn't. Furthermore, it does show how difficult it is to remove or impeach a sitting President because I doubt they could have done it without Nixon's help. If he either a) hadn't taped all of that material or b) just destroyed it all before they had a chance to legally seize it, I doubt they could have done anything to him.