The Functional Hermit

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Hermit Cinema: Frost/Nixon

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frost-nixon-01

This movie had a lot unfairly going against it for me. For one, I was on a cross-country flight in May and this was the in-flight movie. I didn’t listen to the sound but tracked things visually. Seeing the visual storyline detracted from any urgency and frankly, I didn’t see anything that really piqued my interest. On top of that, this is a historical recreation so this is another movie where we know the ending before the opening credits appear. Both of those were big mistakes on my part. This movie was surprisingly engaging and well done.

Ron Howard directs here and does a good job. The performances he gets from the actors are outstanding and feel very spontaneous, yet the whole movie feels under the firm control of a central, unified vision.

The movie opens with a quick recap of the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s (Frank Langella) last days. Meanwhile, David Frost (Michael Sheen) is an English television personality/performer who once tasted the intoxicating experience of ‘success’ in America and yearns to taste it once again. He’s a performer first and his reputation is more that of a talk-show host than a journalist. But he sees the huge audience potential that an interview with Nixon holds with the American people.

Frost’s confidence in the project hides the fact that the underfunded endeavor is actually being held together with smoke, mirrors and his TV-friendly smile. He culls together a small team to help him prepare and bring the project to fruition: John Birt (Matthew Macfayden, who is a dead ringer for John Cusack’s illegitimate English sibling) as his producer, Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt) who is a journalist for ABC News and James Reston Jr. (Sam Rockwell), a writer who sees conspiracy in everything Nixon does and has penned four books on the subject.

Zelnick and Reston are skeptical of Frost. They, and seemingly the rest of the nation/industry, see Frost as a lightweight who is in way over his head. They become aware of the lack of funding, which does nothing to encourage their faith in the project. But somehow Frost gets together the funds to pay Nixon his gargantuan fee and get the production underway. Both Frost and Nixon are aware that they are two adversaries who are to best the other over several interviews to take place over the course of a couple of weeks.

At first, the interviews are a disaster for Frost. Nixon is in complete control. Frost is the passive participant with Nixon seemingly talking about what he wants, how we wants. As the interviews go on, little seems to change. This leads to tension within Frost’s group and a sense of validation within Nixon’s, as they head for the final showdown: the last interview which is supposed to cover Watergate.

Of course, we know what happens. And if you don’t the internet makes it very easy to find out. I’m not going to talk about any of that. But this movie, very surprisingly had me fully engaged from beginning to end. Michael Sheen does a nice job with Frost, struggling to balance a desire for legitimacy with his baser, TV-friendly instincts. Rockwell does a lot with a smaller role, and Platt handles his part well.

The real standout here is Langella’s Nixon.  He actually manages to make Nixon – the perpetrator of the greatest political fraud in modern American history – a flawed, egotistic and sympathetic figure. That’s no small feat. The scene with a late night phone call between an inebriated Nixon and Frost is a real showstopper, thanks to Langella chewing up the dialogue and spitting out a real peak inside the man as opposed to the politician.

Howard does a great job recreating the period as well. You really feel like you’re stealing glances into the past.

This movie felt just a bit long to me, but otherwise is a very solid movie. I give this DVD a B-plus.

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Written by the bee dub

October 15, 2009 at 1:30 pm

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