Frost / Nixon


Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by:Peter Morgan
Starring: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, Toby Jones, Oliver Platt
Released: December 26, 2008
Grade: A-

On 9 August 1974, Richard Nixon became the first and only person to resign as President of the United States.  There was evidence which linked Nixon directly to the Watergate scandal and his approval rating had slipped to record lows.  Nixon denied the allegations but felt it best to resign “in the interest of the Nation.”

One month later, the new President, Gerald Ford, gave Richard Nixon a full pardon.  Many historians believe it was a wise move by Ford.  It allowed the country to move forward and focus on other, bigger issues.  The public didn’t see it that way at the time.  They wanted Nixon brought to justice for the fact that he had brought shame to their country’s highest office.

The public would get their wish but it came from an unlikely person in an unlikely forum.  David Frost was an English talk show host who in the mid-1970s, had television shows in both England and Australia.  Fascinated by Nixon’s resignation, Frost had wanted to get an exclusive one-on-one interview with him.  This wasn’t going to be an easy assignment as Nixon had become somewhat of a recluse.  He hadn’t given a single television interview since his resignation.

Frost found a way to do it – with money.  He offered Nixon $600,000 in exchange for four 90-minutes interviews.  It was a phenomenal sum of money and Nixon accepted.

Frost / Nixon started out as a play.  It was written by Peter Morgan (The Queen) and was performed on Broadway between April and August 2007.  The play was widely acclaimed and it would go on to receive 3 Tony Award nominations.  This cinematic version has also been written by Peter Morgan and stars the two men who featured in the Broadway show – Frank Langella and Michael Sheen.  It should come as no surprise to hear that their performances are terrific.

The first half of the film follows the lead up to the interviews.  We see Nixon (Langella) discuss his strategy for the interviews with good friend Jack Brennan (Bacon).  They think Frost will be a “push over” given his limited political experience.  Nixon will be able to use the interviews to win back the public’s respect and return to the political arena.

Frost sees the interviews differently.  He thinks that the resulting spotlight will allow him to launch himself in the American marketplace.  He’s a man driven by fame and stardom.  Unfortunately, his plan for these exclusive interviews isn’t turning out like he’d hoped.  The major networks aren’t interested in buying them because of Frost’s background.  They think he’s a joke and would rather see Nixon grilled by a leading journalist such as Mike Wallace.  This leaves Frost exposed since he paid most of the interview fee out of his own pocket.

The second half of the film features the interviews themselves and it makes for great viewing.  You could call it an action film.  The only difference is that instead of fighting with guns and fists, these two combatants are fighting with words.  The winner will be judged by those who watch.  Frost knows that if he can get Nixon to admit guilt, then he will come away as the victor.

Frost / Nixon is a strong movie which has been directed by Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13).   I love this type of cinema – it’s intelligent and entertaining at the same time.  My only qualm is that I think Frost’s “transformation” at the end of the film is a little hard to believe.  He’s portrayed rather negatively in the lead up to the interviews and I was surprised at how quickly he pulled himself together.

Some in Hollywood are buzzing about potential Oscar nominations and I think Frank Langella has the best chance with his portrayal of Richard Nixon.  Langella is an underrated actor and I’m happy to see him receive this early recognition.  If you want to find out why, make sure you don’t miss checking out this film while it is screening in cinemas.