Film Flashback: Frost/Nixon (2008)

Ralph Nelson/Universal Studios
Disgraced former president Richard Nixon (FRANK LANGELLA) faces off against jet-setting TV personality David Frost (MICHAEL SHEEN).

*Figured this was somewhat timely considering the increasingly more heated presidential campaign. Here’s a look at arguably the most controversial of all presidents, played to perfection by Frank Langella. I’ll always have a soft spot for Langella simply because he played Skeletor in the live-action “Masters of the Universe” movie. Funny how you’ll like an actor for a long time just for one role, isn’t it?

Clearly it’s December as studios are unleashing their Oscar contenders one after another. Clear some room for Ron Howard’s “Frost/Nixon,” which at the very least should merit a Best Actor nomination for Frank Langella, but also Best Picture and Best Director consideration. [2012 FF: Not exactly making a bold prediction there. In addition to those three, the film was nominated for Best Film Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay.]

The film is based on the 2007 Peter Morgan play, which netted Langella a Tony Award for Best Actor so he’s familiar with this role. It’s set around the historic 1977 television event where disgraced former president Richard Nixon agreed to a series of  interviews with TV personality David Frost to discuss the circumstances leading to his resignation following the Watergate scandal.

Ralph Nelson/Universal Studios
David Frost (MICHAEL SHEEN) flirts with Caroline Cushing (REBECCA HALL).

Frost (played by Michael Sheen who also reprises his role from the play) is a TV talk show host more in the vein of Regis Philbin [2012 FF: or Michael Strahan…] than Anderson Cooper — hardly the hard-hitting journalist anyone would expect to be able to get any real dirt from Nixon.

Howard shoots the film as a behind the scenes style documentary making for a fascinating experience.

Ralph Nelson/Universal Studios
FRANK LANGELLA as Richard Nixon.

Langella completely drives this film and he’s amazing. It’s the subtle things like how he speaks almost as if he’s gargling and carries his shoulders strong giving the impression that he still considers himself important and worthy of respect despite his less than glorious departure from Washington.

Sheen gives a more understated performance, but he’s just as effective as  the preening showman with an ever present smile for the cameras.

Nixon’s main focus is preserving his legacy and the good he accomplished in office, but his detractors want him to own up to his mistakes.

The film is staged like an epic duel, where Nixon masterfully avoids Frost’s probing questions and confidently assumes the interviews will repair his image. The film’s final 20 minutes delivers a strong payoff without any showy effects, just powerful performances.

Howard doesn’t seek to redeem or explain away the mistakes Nixon made. Any sympathy you feel for Nixon will only come as a result of Langella drawing you into Nixon at his lowest.

Ralph Nelson/Universal Studios
[From left] David Frost (MICHAEL SHEEN) interviews Richard Nixon (FRANK LANGELLA).

Even if you’re too young to remember these historic events or lived through them, “Frost/Nixon” is a definite must-see this holiday season.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

5 thoughts on “Film Flashback: Frost/Nixon (2008)”

  1. I think your review hits it right on the head. Frank Langella’s portrayal of Richard Nixon and the movie were a big part of the change in the public view of the disgrace former President. Even I, a 60s militant who disliked “Tricky Dick” even before Watergate felt some sympathy for the man watching Mr. Langella play him. This is one fine piece of film making and shows how films can influence public opinion very subtly.

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