Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Frost/Nixon

 

Review by Matthew Starr

The film Frost/Nixon is the first time I had seen the work of Frank Langella. He has been in a number of films and also performs on Broadway often (I live in New York City). The film is based upon the stage play of the same name with Langella reviving his portrayal of Richard Nixon, a role he had previously won a Tony and Drama Desk award for.

Langella as Nixon is astounding, to say the least. Not only does he look and sound like Nixon but he is able to effortlessly display the entire range of the President’s emotions. At least it appears as if he is doing it effortlessly. This is a grand performance that really carries the film and is an automatic Oscar nomination for best actor.

The story focuses on the title characters David Frost (Michael Sheen) and Richard Nixon and their famous set of interviews which pitted the stubborn and much maligned President against the aspiring but sometimes acquiescent television show host.  Frost had just finished filming an episode of his talk show in Australia when he watched Nixon leaving the White House for the final time and asked his producer what the ratings were for that event, eventually deciding that he would like to interview the man himself.

Ron Howard effectively presents the story in a half-narrative, half-documentary style. Every so often he cuts to one of the characters being interviewed and speaking directly in to the camera, revealing details that give the audience a keener sense of the characters motivations. The supporting cast is admirable with Michael Sheen leading the way as Frost. Sam Rockwell and Toby Jones are fun to watch in their respective roles.

Ron Howard has been pretty far off my radar for the last ten or so years. I didn’t think A Beautiful Mind was nearly as good as it was made out to be. I actually have enjoyed his older works (Ransom and prior) more than his recent films, which he has garnered a lot of praise for. In fact the first movie I ever saw in theatres was Willow in 1988, when I was four years old.  (I loved it, by the way.)

Frost/Nixon is an admirable film but not a great film. The story was adapted by Peter Morgan of The Queen fame, a movie I enjoyed more than this. I feel like this is an interesting movie but it feels like a documentary with great performances and not a drama. I also feel like Ron Howard has a great film waiting to come out in him, a film better than A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man and Frost/Nixon. I am looking forward to seeing it.

4 / 5 stars
 
 
 

Review by Paul Edwards

The Watergate scandal rocked this nation to its core. While I wasn’t around then, I have heard, from the lessons taught by my political science professors, about Nixon’s use of executive privilege and how it drastically changed the way it’s been used by government officials and by PBS documentaries covering the man. Richard Nixon would seem like a great role for any actor to play. His little idiosyncrasies, his gruff voice, his paranoia, and his tough outside and vulnerable inside would allow any actor to completely dive in and lose oneself in the role. The actor who took on this exhilarating yet daunting task is longtime thespian Frank Langella.

From the trailers and the posters, it is easy to assume that this is David Frost (Michael Sheen) vs. Richard Nixon (Langella).  In the case of the big spectacular dramatics, that is indeed the case, but in terms of the overall final product, it could not be farther then the truth. The entire cast of players, most notably and audibly Sam Rockwell’s James Reston, Jr. and Kevin Bacon’s Jack Brennan. They shape the action and in turn, make the movie bigger then a one on one battle. It makes the battle bigger then just two guys sitting in the studio and opens it up for everyone to relate to.

But what is this battle about? Well, the film is a virtual rehashing of the Frost/Nixon tapes. David Frost was mostly an entertainment journalist before he took on the interview of his life.   This exclusive interview with Richard Nixon took place right after Nixon resigned the Presidency. The Nixon camp saw this as an opportunity to “set the record straight” or otherwise heal the President’s understandably tarnished image. What transpired is nothing that either camp could have foreseen, and it only could have happened with the power of television.

If there is one thing that is wrong with the movie, a possible Best Picture Oscar nominee with all the all but locked in Best Oscar nominee for Langella’s portrayal of Richard Nixon, is that the T.V. spots and trailers gave away the climax of the movie. However, it being loosely based on historical documentation, I can understand why one of the climaxes was given away. It was what we saw already; it’s actually the climax that happens before it that makes the film, even if it is a little questionable historically. In the end, this film surprised me with its effectiveness and had me at the edge of my seat clamoring for more.

4 ½ / 5 stars

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