*** (out of 5)
December 5, 2008
Frank Langella as RICHARD NIXON
Michael Sheen as DAVID FROST
Toby Jones as SWIFTY LAZAR
Sam Rockwell as JAMES RESTON, JR.
Kevin Bacon as JACK BRENNAN
Matthew Macfadyen as JOHN BIRT
Oliver Platt as BOB ZELNICK
Rebecca Hall as CAROLINE CUSHING
Directed by: Ron Howard
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
You’ve gotta hand it to Ron Howard… with very few exceptions (of which I can only think of “The Missing” and “The Grinch”), he always delivers a well-made film. And “Frost/Nixon” is not exception to this.
Based on Peter Morgan’s award-winning stage play, “Frost/Nixon” tells the story behind the story of soft-hitting journalist David Frost’s historic interview with Richard Nixon three years after he resigned the presidency. The film goes beyond what the stage play offered by showing how the strategies unfolded behind the scenes as well as during the long-form filmed interviews.
Reprising their roles from the stage production are Michael Sheen as David Frost and Frank Langella as Richard Nixon. Additional supporting characters are played by Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, Toby Jones and Kevin Bacon. Here’s where the awards buzz has started with this film.
The supporting cast is really solid, with the exception of the worthless a vapid character of Caroline Cushing (Rebecca Hall) as Frost’s main squeeze. The movie belongs more to Michael Sheen, who has the most depth of character. I’ve enjoyed Sheen’s work for years, and I commend him for holding his own against Frank Langella.
Still, it is Langella as Nixon who really steals the show. For years, actors have tried to play Nixon on screen, but they always fall into caricature and appear to be nothing more than a sour SNL impression. Even the Academy Award-nominated performance that Anthony Hopkins gave us in Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” was laughable at best.
But Langella manages to embody the President without going over the top. He’s believable, and he feels very real. Like Josh Brolin in that other Oliver Stone presidential biopic, Langella goes a long way to become the character rather than to just act like the character.
I know a fellow critic who adored this film, but he came to it with a love of the play, which he saw on the London West End. He also leans left politically and never liked Nixon himself.
Me, on the other hand, who was only six years old when the Frost/Nixon interviews first took place, found myself disinterested in the film. The driving thrust of the story is for Frost to get Nixon to admit to wrongdoing in the Watergate debacle. And while Nixon gives in to a degree, it still ends up as a pretty soft climax. Apparently it was a pretty big deal back in 1977, but in today’s political climate where there’s a presidential scandal every week or so, this is possibly the most irrelevant movie to be released this year.
I suppose I’m jaded because I lived through the Clinton years, during which his abuses of power dwarfed anything Nixon did. Maybe I’m just tired of presidential politics after a bitter White House battle in November and having to suffer through the re-issue of “Nixon” on DVD only to have it followed up with “W” in theaters this past October.
I won’t be surprised if Langella – or Sheen, for that matter – are given their due nominations this award season. They definitely deserve it. However, I was left acknowledging a very well made movie with very little worth to take home.
But if you hated Nixon, loved the original stage play or watched the original interview with great interest thirty years ago, you’ll eat this film up.