No one saw it coming. And really, why would they? For all his faults, Richard Nixon was an incredibly intelligent and powerful man, and David Frost, for all his popularity, was an entertainerâ€”a talk show host. And yet he was able to do the impossible: he cracked Tricky Dick.
Based on the stage play and directed by Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon recounts the historical interviews between David Frost and Richard Nixon. Frost viewed it as an opportunity to better his career, and Nixon saw it as a way to get his story out to the American public and claw his way back from political death. Whether either understood the real significance of the interviews at the time is unclear, but today Frosts interviews with the former president stand as a hallmark of investigative journalism and a powerful moment when the United States public exacted some measure of justice from the man they felt nearly ruined their country.
Howard captures the importance of this moment brilliantly by jumping back and forth through time. The majority of the movie takes place in 1977, covering the period when Nixon resigned to just after the interviews, but interspersed throughout are brief interview scenes where the characters involved reflect on that moment. This allows for a sense of immediacy while still giving it the proper sense of history, and even though everyone knows how it turns out, the drama of the situation and the hurdles Frost and his team had to overcome are still moving.
In some ways it seems unfair to single out one particular actor (or, indeed, one particular aspect of the movie) when everyone involved from the director to the writer to the actors did an outstanding job, but Frank Langellas performance as Nixon does deserve special mention. While I have no desire to defend the former president or his actions, it should be kept in mind that he was human and subject to the all the frailties and complications that come with that label. It would be easy to simply vilify Nixon and aggrandize Frost, but the movie does a great job of portraying both as the complex, sometimes contradictory people they both were and a great deal of the credit must go to Frank Langella for his nuanced performance.
Michael Sheen deserves praise too for his portrayal of David Frost. Both he and Langella display a keen intelligence in their roles and watching the verbal chess match they engage in is riveting. The “gotcha” moment when Frost finally cuts through Nixons defenses and reaches the sad, bitter, self-loathing man underneath the presidential demeanor is at once triumphant and heartbreaking, and the war inside Frost between his genuine sympathy for the man and his disgust at his actions is utterly compelling and subtly played out through Sheens powerful yet minimal expressions.
But as I said, in a way its unfair to single out any one actor because every person involved does such an amazing job. Frost/Nixon stands as an example of how the right elements and right people can come together to make something truly incredible.
The movie was presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with the audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, French, and Spanish language tracks. English, French, and Spanish subtitles are provided for the hearing impaired. As far as the quality goes, this is a superb transfer of a movie done with superior equipment.
Deleted Scenes (22:26) – There are quite a few deleted scenes here, and as much as I enjoyed the movie, a little over twenty minutes of extra scenes is just too much. Which is not to say that the scenes arent good, because they are, but the movie was so well put together that they dont enhance the overall experience.
The Making of Frost/Nixon (22:57) – Very interesting making-of featurette. Ron Howard is very good at explaining his thought process behind making a movie, as is Frank Langella. They go beyond the usual pat self-congratulation that makes up the typical behind-the-scenes feature. These are highly intelligent people involved and their contributions to the movie are obvious. This is worth watching.
The Real Interview (7:29) – This has to be the best extra feature on the entire DVD. Seeing the real interview between Frost and Nixon is amazing and they are still powerful. Watch this if nothing else.
The Nixon Library (6:23) – Although interesting, this for me was the weakest of the bonus features. The story behind the controversy behind the library and how it came to be is fascinating, but its not as strong as the other features.
Feature Commentary with Director Ron Howard – Im not usually one for commentary tracks, but this one does stand out as one of the better ones. Howard expresses himself very well and really outlines the movie-making process well.
Although there are obvious parallels between the events of Nixons tenure and the recent Bush administration – which adds a sense of greater importance to the movie – the film does stand by itself as an important chronicle of a significant moment in United States history as well as a highly entertaining experience. Highly recommended.
Universal presents Frost/Nixon. Directed by Ron Howard. Starring Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Rebecca Hall, Toby Jones, Mathew Macfayden, Oliver Platt, and Sam Rockwell. Written by Peter Morgan. Running time: 123 minutes. Rated PG. Released on DVD: April 21, 2009. Available at Amazon.
Tags: Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon, Michael Sheen, Ron Howard