I really enjoy Broadway plays. Or good plays in general. The sheer power that an actor can convey via this medium is quite enriching. On the other hand, movies end up making a hash of re-enacting them on screen. So when they said Frost/Nixon, the legendary Peter Morgan scripted play would be “hitting theatres soon”, I was skeptical. Would they muck it up?
Ron Howard’s competent film adaptation of Peter Morgan’s play, also the writer of the Helen Mirren-starrer, The Queen, dramatizes the famous Frost/Nixon interviews from 1977. Of course, what was on everyone’s mind at the time was the Watergate scandal, and how Americans were never able to give Nixon the trial they so desperately wanted.
Simply put, it was as good a movie about what a politician can get. And part of that is because it isn’t a political movie, after all.
Over time when we watch movies such as the monumental Gandhi, or the picturesque Che movie in Motorcyle Diaries, you tend to forgive a few mistakes just because it isn’t possible to make that perfect biopic so to speak.
Frost/Nixon does it for me. Frank Langella and Martin Sheen reprise their Broadway version roles and ensure that no one sinks this ship, which leads critics to often point out the axiom “The play was far better than the book” Yes, Langella is legendary as the cunning, paranoid, and yet charming Nixon. Sheen works as the flamboyant and yet constantly growing David Frost. Ron Howard is at his technical directorial best, barring probably A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13.
The supporting cast in Kevin Bacon, Bob Zelnick and Oliver Platt is competent. Hans Zimmer, now known as the Dark Knight guy, bags another Golden Globe nomination for a thoroughly deserved under the carpet job. This score backs up the story very well, and is underplayed enough to let the film take charge. Even Rebecca Hall provides suitable eye candy.
The lighting is normal, rather than exaggerated. The camera angles are sharp, but not home video like. But what works is that the story simply focuses on Richard Nixon the man, rather than the publicly criticised and left-office-in-shame Nixon.
Director Ron Howard nicely interweaves archival news footage, faux-post interviews with the secondary players, and the dramatic re-enactments of the actual Frost/Nixon interviews. It’s a kick to watch Nixon throw Frost off his game with an off-color remark. “Do any fornicating last night?”, the president asks his inquisitor just before the cameras roll. Frost seizes the day in the end, going in for the kill on Watergate
The film really takes off in the last half an hour, with Frank Langella’s multi layered contrition driven, yet slick portrayal of a shamed and swollen Richard Nixon. Sheen, of course, is competent as the man who extracts the “confession” from the “devil”.
The only grouse one might have is that it isn’t entirely accurate as was the play it was based on. Peter Morgan’s play is artistically brilliant, but takes the literary license a little too seriously. Literary license in the name of drama or entertainment is one thing; the issue comes down to what one is taking license with, and the degree of license being taken.
Don’t take this as your source for the History term paper, but filmmaking end terms; a big nod. Watch it when it hits the Indian theatres or take a trip to a foreign land to catch it before others. It’s worth it!