One of the most significant historical events that I never learned enough about in high school was the Watergate scandal and the fallout left upon Richard Nixon. Ron Howard’s new film Frost/Nixon, a film adaptation of the stage play, delves into the now famous interviews between talk show host David Frost and the former president Richard Nixon.
This dramatization of a series of interviews granted to British talk show host David Frost in 1977, three years after Nixon resigned from his presidency, plays like a back and forth cat and mouse thriller and a boxing match rich with suspense. The bizarre thing is that with any knowledge of the subject beforehand the outcome of this bout is already known. While this is true with all history-based films there’s something special about this one in particular.
This isn’t a retelling of a violent war. They are merely a series of interviews. What allows the viewer the ability to fall right into the film, whether they know the outcome or not, are the outstanding performances by the ensemble cast. Frank Langella gives a seemingly uncanny portrayal of Richard Nixon. Langella does something unique with Nixon. He, much like the real Nixon, gave the audience a chance to feel sympathy for him during the interviews. In the end everyone, including himself, is able to see right through this façade of cover-ups. Langella’s performance is an award-deserving three dimensional take on Nixon. From the flawlessly replicated mannerisms to the sulking body posture to the profoundly deep and brooding voice Langella’s portrayal of the former president will be noted come Oscar time.
To applaud only Langella would be to applaud only part of the team. Michael Sheen seamlessly loses himself within this out of place character of a talk show host. Frost was a man that at the time lived for the limelight. He was a man seen as more of an entertainer rather than as an investigative journalist. Sheen portrays both sides of this before and after transformation very well by effortlessly slipping into character.
Supporting performances such as Kevin Bacon’s stern performance as Jack Brennan, one of Nixon’s protective advisors, and Sam Rockwell as the determined James Reston Jr., one of Frost’s main researchers, complete a cast worthy of praise all around.
Frost/Nixon is a film that flew right past me. Once the film reached the second half, and more importantly the fourth interview, I was locked in my seated position and rarely looked away from the screen. With the aforementioned brilliant and realistic performances coupling with the stark reality of the dialogue the film is as suspenseful as can be. Howard’s directing only adds to the mix as his up close and personal approach during the interviews locks the combatants down right in front of you never letting go until it’s all over. Every emotional portion of dialogue and facial gesture is perfectly captured.
For me to speak on the historical aspects of this riveting film would be for me to go over my head. I prefer to leave the history to those who know it best. What I do know is that Frost/Nixon is one of the more compelling and entertaining films of its kind this year. The script plays like a stage play script with its limited locations and focus on dialogue but none of that does harm to the film. Frost/Nixon will undoubtedly be up for Oscar consideration as far as best picture goes and Frank Langella, who led a strong overall group of actors, will be a heavy favorite to win best actor with his powerful and moving performance that almost made me feel a drop of sympathy for the lonely Richard Nixon.