Monday, December 15, 2008

Reel Thoughts: All the President's Lies

After a celebrated Broadway production, Frost/Nixon has been lovingly brought to the big screen. It’s a powerful premise — lightweight talk show host squaring off with disgraced former President Richard Nixon — with each man desperate to gain respect from the media and the public.

Frank Langella gives an Oscar-worthy performance as “Tricky Dick,” showing us a man who did terrible, abusive things to the presidency, which actually seem quaint by George W. Bush standards. Michael Sheen, who was such a marvelous Tony Blair in The Queen, does an equally wonderful job showing us David Frost’s insecure core beneath the glib TV showman.

Not having seen Peter Morgan’s play, I have to say that the film makes up for the lack of live theater electricity with its well-produced ’70s settings and supporting cast. Look for Patty McCormack (The Bad Seed herself) as a frail-seeming Pat Nixon, while Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona’s Vicky) is engaging again as socialite Caroline Cushing, Frost’s girlfriend.

Director Ron Howard does a masterful job driving the conflict and action leading up to Frost’s historic four-part interview with Nixon by showing the major manipulations going on behind the scenes on both sides. Sam Rockwell plays what Sarah Palin would call a “gotcha” journalist, James Reston, who is determined to force Nixon into admitting guilt and apologizing for his involvement in Watergate. Kevin Bacon is effective, but fairly standard, as Nixon’s stiff right-hand man.

Frost/Nixon is a powerful character study that feels anti-climactic, only because they’ve shown the dramatic final showdown in the ads. Even if you’re not a history buff, the film is a fascinating glimpse back in time. I sincerely doubt that the present administration will garner the same sympathy Langella elicits.

UPDATE: Frost/Nixon is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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