Frost/Nixon Proves to Be a Historical Curio
- Friday, December 05, 2008
DVD Release Date: April 21, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: December 5, 2008 (limited)
Rating: R (for some language)
Run Time: 122 min
Director: Ron Howard
Actors: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, Matthew Macfadyen, Toby Jones, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall
A fascinating moment in history comes to vivid life in Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon, an adaptation of Peter Morgan’s stage play. Starring Frank Langella (Starting Out in the Evening) in the role of Richard Nixon and Michael Sheen (who played Tony Blair in the Morgan-penned The Queen) as interviewer David Frost, the film stands out as a retelling of a landmark TV interview, but the story’s relevance will depend on viewers’ willingness to connect Nixon to George W. Bush. Those who don’t see a clear connection will be left with a well-acted drama—nothing to sneeze at, but nothing particularly revelatory either.
Nixon had been out of office for three years when he agreed to an interview with British TV personality David Frost. Never a friend of the press, Nixon would need them to carry out a campaign of rehabilitating his reputation.
He also wanted money. Working with his agent, Swifty Lazar (Toby Jones), he fields an offer of $600,000 for a series of interviews with Frost, whom Lazar and Nixon Chief of Staff Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon) see as an easy interviewer—someone who will “pitch softballs all night.”
Frost faces skepticism about the prospect of landing an interview with Nixon, but when the money offered for the interview proves irresistible to the former president, Frost finds himself pushed and prodded to use the interview to extract an admission of guilt from Nixon. James Reston Jr. (Sam Rockwell), an expert on the abuse of presidential power, insists that the interview will be the trial Nixon never had. Embittered over President Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon, Reston insists to Frost that “the American people want a conviction, plain and simple.”
Also assisting Frost are radio correspondent Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt) and producer John Birt (Matthew Macfadyen). But it’s Frost who knows the medium of television best among the group. But if Frost was counting on his understanding of television to give him an advantage, he had underestimated his adversary. Nixon well remembered the lessons of his loss in the presidential election of 1960 to John F. Kennedy, after televised debates hurt Nixon’s image (and helped Kennedy’s). Nixon also realized that he’d be entering a combat zone of sorts. “The limelight can only shine on one of us,” he tells Frost before their final interview.
Brennan, a believer that the “hippies and dilettantes” had “gotten rid” of Nixon, protects Nixon at all costs. “Give long answers. Control the space,” he advises the disgraced president.
As the attempt to get Nixon to acknowledge his errors falters, the pressure on Frost mounts—not only to his reputation, but also to his pocketbook. American networks aren’t interested in paying the unprecedented sum Frost demands for a straight news interview, forcing Frost to shoulder the project’s financing while he continues to search for a broadcast outlet for the interview.
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