Without a doubt, Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal and subsequent resignation as President, is one of the most interesting moments in US, if not world history. Frost/Nixon is a film, based on a play, that chronicles the famous post-resignation interview of Nixon by British interviewer David Frost. The former is portrayed (dead on) by Frank Langella as a man immersed in sadness and anger, seeing the interview as a chance to redeem himself, while the latter is portrayed by Micheal Sheen (Tony Blair in The Queen) as a playboy and inexperienced opponent who is more accustomed to interviewing movie stars than political heavyweights. Frost/Nixon looks at the journey towards the actual interviews that American networks didn’t want to buy, leaving Frost to scavenge around for funding an eventual interview that would capture the attention of a staggering 45 million viewers. Meanwhile, the Nixon camp figures the inexperienced Frost would be a walk in the part for the ex-president looking for public exoneration and a possible re-entry in to political life. Frost is no Mike Wallace and that inexperience is emphasized as the taping of the interviews proceed and Nixon crafts his answers poetically like any sage politician of his caliber would.
The outcome of the interviews are widely known so audiences (unless history-illiterate) won’t be surprised here, but the film plays more like a process story, detailing the events leading up and surrounding those interviews. A young Diane Sawyer looms in the background of the small and dwindling Nixon camp, while Frost’s own team tries to prep him for the interview of a lifetime – one that is hoped to be the trial that Nixon never got. It is not a biography, it is about one single moment in history and one attempt to get a crooked President to confess his crimes and apologize on television; a medium that has never been good to Nixon (JFK debates).
Langella’s performance is as memorable as Hellen Mirren in The Queen, which garnered her an Oscar and will probably score him one as well. It’s not so much an impersonation as it is a genuine portrayal of a man’s loss of power and legacy of political failures; someone who was never well-loved by the American public in general (reminds me of someone). Langella dominates the screen, sucking out any limelight from the room that would dare shine on anyone else. His performance is even more emphasized when facing off with Sheen’s character who wallows in silence as the President performs for the public from the comfort of a living room armchair, unable to reel him in until the final interview.
Frost/Nixon is written by Peter Morgan who also wrote award-winning The Queen, and directed by Ron Howard who knows his way around a camera. Together they produce something pretty fascinating and it is quite entertaining to see the character of Nixon swaying away from the traditional depictions of a menacing man (Anthony Hopkins in Stone’s Nixon) and into the lethal political weapon that he was, playing mind games with his interviewee seconds before the cameras begin to role. It is also interesting to witness the behind-the-scene events unfolding, like an intimate phone call between Frost and Nixon the night before the final interview, as a drunk Nixon reveals a darker side to his self. A scene of fiction but nonetheless a good way to reveal something about the mind of the central character here; this historical figure.
Fortunately, you can find Frost/Nixon in the balad these days and is definitely worth a watch. It is historical.
A clip from the original interview: