Frost/Nixon is the latest film in the illustrious career of actor / director Ron Howard. Howard is slowly moving his way top the elite directors in Hollywood, but I really think he could have done more with such a powerful story. In my mind, this was an Oscar contender for picture of the year, but the film only showed flashes of brilliance that was not sustained throughout.
Frost/Nixon is a retelling of the true story behind a series of television interviews between David Frost (played by Michael Sheen) and former US president Richard Nixon (played by Frank Langella). The film starts out with actual news footage of the time, relating to the Watergate cover-up scandal. Frost is a talk show host with shows in Australia and England, and from what the movie depicts, sort of decides on a whim that he is going to interview Richard Nixon. He secures the interviews with Nixon after brokering a deal through Swifty Lazar (played by Toby Jones) for $600,000. On his flight to California, Frost starts flirting with the lovely Caroline Cushing (played by Rebecca Hall), who evolves into his right-hand bitch.
James Reston, Jr. (played by Sam Rockwell), Bob Zelnick (played by Oliver Platt), and John Birt (played by Matthew Macfadyen) do all the background work for Frost's interview questions - they make up Frost's "corner" - while Frost galavants around with Cushing to various events to rub elbows with big wigs and sponsors. Throughout the interview scenes, it really felt like a boxing match, with each fighter having their respective corner that they received aid from. In Nixon's "corner" was Jack Brennan (played by Kevin Bacon), and Diane Sawyer (played by Kate Jennings Grant). Brennan was essentially Nixon's main adviser, and wanted nothing more than the former president to have his legacy restored, and his name publicly cleared.
In the film, Frost is depicted as a free spirit, almost like Austin Powers I would say, who really does not take these interviews seriously until the final stage, which revolved around the Watergate scandal. His major concern was insuring that he had a good time, and that the project would receive adequate funding, with small glimmers of actual concern about the quality of the interviews. Nixon is portrayed fairly accurately from what history says about him, as a somewhat charming, arrogant, long-winded, powerful man. Admittedly, I felt a bit anxious before the film went into the first day of filming the interviews, which is good - it is what they wanted me to feel after all this build up and preparation. The movie all lead up to the final interview - the Watergate interview - but the most powerful scene is a phone call that occurs the Friday prior to this final showdown.
Langella steals the show. From his Nixon accent, to his mannerisms and swagger, he did Nixon beautifully. Typically I am very weary when films actually show the face of famous / political icons, let alone when they have them in a leading role; the worry is always that the actor won't be able to pull it off, and it will bring down the quality of the picture, but Langella knocked this shit out of the park. Rockwell and Platt gave strong and real roles aiding the Frost campaign, and Bacon was his usual brilliant self. These three gentlemen did a banging job in their supporting roles.
The thorn in my side is the role of Frost - maybe it was just the character, maybe it was Sheen, or maybe it was a combination of the two - but this is where I think the film lacked intensity. Understandably, if that is how Frost acted in reality, then that is how he should be depicted in the film, but his character just didn't do it for me. In my opinion, this role would have been better suited by a Philip Seymour Hoffman or Leonardo DiCaprio - with the right make up, they could have both easily pulled it off. Even though I understand it was the Langella / Sheen tandem that played the lead roles in the Frost/Nixon plays, Sheen just did not feel right for this. That being said, they could have cut out many of his "playboy" type scenes, and just honed in on the interviews themselves, but then you'd ask why would we need to see the film, and not just watch the interviews? I don't have a good answer to this question.
Frost/Nixon was a let down in my book. Worth seeing, for certain, but you too may feel some of the wind knocked out of your sails when you get through it. It is a pity because there was the potential for greatness here, and it just felt like it bottomed out. The final point that I will bring up are the character interviews throughout the film. Occasionally there would be a cut scene where one of the characters in the film would fill in some gaps that the movie left out, but they didn't use the real people from the event, they used the actors (in character) from the film. Why didn't they use the actual people from the event? The people in these interviews were the people from the Frost corner, and they are all still alive - including Frost. Certainly it would be more expensive, but with this caliber of film you either go big or you go home.