Frost/Nixon is brilliant, funny, complicated and fascinating. Who knew Ron Howard could make a compelling movie out of a 30 year-old TV interview?
In the summer of 1977, disgraced former President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) sat down with British TV talk show host and interviewer David Frost (Michael Sheen) for a series of interviews that Nixon hoped would resuscitate his Watergate-tarnished image, and Frost hoped would lift his own career to another level. While it made for good TV at the time, it certainly didn't seem likely fodder for a hit Broadway play and now a major motion picture. Peter Morgan (The Queen) wrote the play and adapted it for the screen, turning it into a riveting cat-and-mouse game between these two made-for-television adversaries. Director Ron Howard emphasizes the behind the scenes machinations and all the negotiations between both camps. The off-camera material is priceless, based in large part on speculative research. Whatever the final truth of the story, the film gains its real power from it's the telling.
Ron Howard turns to the two original stage stars of Frost/Nixon -- a wise casting decision that almost never happens in Hollywood. It's true everyone, including Warren Beatty, reportedly wanted to play Nixon, but it's hard to imagine anyone doing a better job than Langella in recreating his Tony-winning interpretation of the infamous Tricky Dick. He has all of Nixon's mannerisms, vulnerabilities and caginess down pat. Sheen certainly captures the confident nature of Frost but also his insecurities and the realization that this whole enterprise is one big roll of the dice. And two actors work in perfect concert with one another. Supporting roles are well played, including standouts Kevin Bacon as Nixon's trusted Chief of Staff Jack Brennan and a hilarious Toby Jones aping the inimitable book agent Swifty Lazar. As key Frost aides and researchers, Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell do a nice job, as kind of the Greek chorus to the situation.
On the surface, Ron Howard -- better known for his large scale Hollywood productions like The Da Vinci Code and Apollo 13 -- doesn't seem the right fit for this smaller scale drama, but his approach transfers what could have been a flat Broadway screen into a highly cinematic and stimulating two hours. He captures the rhythms of this chess match perfectly and chooses camera angles that catch the sweat behind the cool facades of his two principals. Special mention should go to the beautiful nuanced work of his cinematographer Salvatore Totino. Howard is such a gifted filmmaker, he makes it all seem effortless, easily coaxing two equally superb performances from Langella and Sheen. Frost/Nixon is a first class achievement.
Hollywood.com rated this film 4 stars.