December 13, 2008

When a President Does It...

With Oscar season in full swing, it's no surprise that the movies coming out will be some of the best of the year. Of all the heavy award contenders hitting the theaters, probably the best is Frost/Nixon, an astounding film that will get nominated for some big awards and easily finds itself in my Top Ten.
The year is 1974, and Richard Nixon has just resigned the office of the President of the United States in the wake of the massive clusterfuck that was Watergate. Many Americans are outraged that the man who committed, quite possibly, the worst crime in the history of the nation will walk free. Enter ambitious and carefree talk show host, David Frost. Frost gets the brilliant idea to interview Nixon, hoping to rake in the numbers, and give him his ticket back into American television. At first, Frost's goals don't stretch far from, make lot's of money and achieve fame and fortune. But soon, the interview becomes much more then that. Soon, Frost and his team are driven by one ulterior motive, to give Richard Nixon the trial he never had. The screenplay is based off a Tony Award winning play by Peter Morgan, which was based on the actual interviews of Nixon conducted by Frost. It moves at a breakneck pace, keeping the viewer riveted to the screen as you watch these two clash and the sparks fly. And, oh, do they fly.
Frank Langella and Michael Sheen both reprise their roles from the stage as Nixon and Frost, respectively. They do not so much as imitate the people they are playing, but embody then. Langella especially is amazing as Nixon, giving a powerful and forceful performance. He becomes Nixon, showing us the conflict and regret behind the cold exterior that he showed the world. Langella will get an Oscar nomination, and he may very well win. I think Sean Penn did a better job in Milk, but if anyone is going to challenge him, it will be Langella. Michael Sheen is also sensational as the fun loving and quick witted Frost. Sheen is right at home in these political controversy films. This is a far different role from his turn as Tony Blair in The Queen, but it's just as engrossing and fun to watch. The other main role, and, I think, the best performance of the movie, falls to Sam Rockwell as James Reston Jr., the man who spearheaded Frost's investigation of Nixon. Rockwell is fantastic as, it seems, the only man on Frost's side who initially wants to bring Nixon down. He gives us some of the film's few laughs, while simultaneously giving us most of it's heart. Oliver Platt, Matthew Macfayden, Kevin Bacon, and Rebecca Hall also all turn in great performances as other players behind the scenes. 
Director Ron Howard has never disappointed, from Apollo 13, to A Beautiful Mind, to The Da Vinci Code. (Yes, I liked The Da Vinci Code.) Frost/Nixon blows them all out of the water with it's quality and attention to detail. Howard is very aware of the time that the story is set in. Anti-Vietnam War sentiment absolutely drenches pretty much every scene, as does the new found love of famous people that was emerging. It's a pleasure to see Rockwell shout down Frost for not caring about convicting Nixon, then becoming star struck by the likes of Neil Diamond and Hugh Hefner. Everything from the clothes and hairstyles, to the cars and camera equipment used evokes 1970s America, and America tired of war and losing faith in their government that they had come to trust. I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it.
If I have to criticize the movie, and I do, I would say the small, little romantic sub-plot involving Frost and Rebecca Hall's Caroline Cushing could have gone so much further. I understand it's not the focus of the film, but it doesn't seem to have any purpose in the state it's in. Granted Hall does a good job, and she and Sheen have real chemistry, but with all the political and social commentary being thrown in the mix, it just seems like an afterthought. Do not let the lack of romance dissuade you though. The movie is no less fascinating with the lack of some sexual activity. 
It will be a colossal shock is Frost/Nixon does not get some recognition come February 22. At the time I am writing this, it has been nominated for 5 Golden Globes, with Howard and Langella each snagging one. It's up against some heavy competition, but it is good enough to pull through. Seek out this most extraordinary movie. It is well worth your $10 and 2 hours. 

1 comment:

  1. It's a shame that so many people have focused on the historical accuracy (or lack of) of this otherwise excellent film. It's a movie, not a documentary!