Wednesday, February 8, 2012

100 Movies - No. 41: Frost/Nixon

41. Frost/Nixon (2008)
Drama, History, 122 minutes
Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Frank Langella, Michael Sheen and Rebecca Hall

Like Doubt, Frost/Nixon covers subject matter that would generally bore me, but the story is so strong that it's capable of seizing my attention and holding it for two hours.

I remember David Frost interviewing Richard Nixon when I was in my teens, and wasn't remotely interested. I grew up in England and so have no personal connection to the events surrounding Nixon's term as president.

So why do I have any interest at all in this film?

It's a combination of the script and the acting. Nixon (Langella) and Frost (Sheen) are portrayed perfectly. The supporting cast is also strong and includes Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt and Toby Jones. The people making up Frost's research team clearly have something invested in the project. Like many of the American people, they are angry that Nixon was granted a pardon by President Ford. They want some kind of admission or guilt and an apology in order to achieve closure.

Frost doesn't care about any of that. He's a playboy and a TV celebrity. He wants to further his career, become famous in America, and make a ton of money at the same time. He manages to convince Nixon to do an interview for his show and sets about soliciting companies and friends to provide the financial backing. But he's really more interested in spending time with his girlfriend (Hall) and experiencing the nightlife.

Frost's next task is to convince his potential team members that he's truly motivated to give Nixon a hard time during the interviews. Once that's done, a contract is drawn up. Nixon stipulates that only one interview out of the four will be permitted to mention the Watergate scandal.

During the first interview, Frost discovers what he's in for. Nixon is experienced at handling the media and gives long meandering answers that say very little. He completely dominates the interview. The remainder of the film shows Frost trying to up his game. One event in particular convinces him to treat the interviews seriously and he eventually throws himself into the task of uncovering new evidence.

The first 90 minutes is used to set up the confrontation between the two in the final interview. It's so well handled that the showdown becomes gripping entertainment. As I mentioned, I have no personal connection to these events, but Ron Howard's direction makes me care. I find myself rooting for Frost in the hope that he could force Nixon into an admission that would help the American people achieve some kind of closure. The dialogue and acting in the final part of the film is explosive and some of the best I have ever witnessed.

If you like Frost/Nixon:

There are a number of political dramas which are similar to Frost/Nixon such as All the President's Men and JFK, but I am going to focus on Michael Sheen's acting. Sheen is a master at imitating the people he is portraying, but his performances are much more than mere imitation.

In The Queen, he plays Prime Minister Tony Blair. The plot deals with the death of Lady Diana and Blair's attempt to get the British Royal Family to admit guilt. That sounds boring, but the film is structured similarly to Frost/Nixon and is just as compelling.

Sheen also shines as Brian Clough in The Damned United, directed by Tom Hooper (The King's Speech). It concerns English soccer management in the 70s, so I couldn't recommend it to everyone, but it's brilliantly handled if you care at all about that subject.

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  1. Nice review. Like you, I had no personal connection to the themes but still found it riveting. Michael Sheen not being nominated for an Oscar is one of the worst snubs in recent memory.

  2. Maybe Sheen will get some kind of Oscar recognition one day. It will be hard to actually win though. I'm baffled by the outcome almost every year. Clooney deserves it this year, but The Artist looks capable of winning most of the leading awards.

  3. Yeah, Clooney's my favorite this year as well but I won't be too mad if Jean Dujardin wins. He gave a great performance too, after all. Still, there's always an acting winner that bothers me greatly. Like Melissa Leo winning last year over Hailee Steinfeld.

  4. Steinfeld should have won that year. The movie wouldn't have worked without her. I'm looking forward to seeing her as Petra Arkanian when they adapt Ender's Game.