To enjoy Frost/Nixon you don’t need to be an old hippie itching to watch Nixon squirm or have lived though Watergate. You don’t even need to know of enjoy politics. The beauty of this film is that it simply comes down to a one on one duel and the way Ron Howard sets it up, fills everyone in and gets them all rooting for Frost.
In one corner, we have David Frost (Michael Sheen) a British television talk show host. He did have a show in America, but now he’s most successful in Australia. Interviewing Nixon is all his idea, a great way to gain acceptance back into American households and give Nixon the trial he never had. But as he gets deeper into preparation for the interview, Frost is putting more and more at stake. He can’t get major TV networks interested in his interview and ends up having to syndicate it himself and foot a hefty bill. Even more important is can he get Nixon to admit to any wrongdoing, or will the crafty president just drone on and sound presidential throughout the entire interview?
In the opposite corner, we have former President Richard M. Nixon (Frank Langalla) fresh off his pardon from President Ford. With the advice of his chief of staff, Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon), he agrees to the interview for the money and because he does not think a British talk show host will put up any tough questions. We easily see that Nixon looks down on Frost and does not consider him a adversary worth worrying about. But Frost realizes the power of television.
Langalla channels a spectacular performance into portraying Nixon. He makes the former president very human and nearly frail with emotions, faults, but extremely cunning with crafty mind games. Langalla devotes most of his talents to live theater and does only a few movies. In 2007 he won a Tony for his performance in the stage production of Frost/Nixon, but was beat out for his nomination at the Oscars. What a shame, I really believe Langalla deserved the award that night. Perhaps Sean Penn’s speech really summed up what happened in the final vote.
The crucial piece of film making that makes this movie work so well is the editing. Throughout the film, we’re constantly filled in with back-story and details from present day interviews as the story progresses. The individual interviews seem to chime in at perfect times, helping the viewer gain a larger perspective of what just happened in the scene. In the beginning of the film, where we’re filled in with bits of old news shows and historical television to fill everyone in on what exactly happened toward the end of Nixon’s presidency, the present day interviews nearly make the film feel like a documentary, but soon the narrative takes hold. I don’t know how, or if that idea was conveyed on stage, but on film it works perfectly.
Frost/Nixon is not a breezy film to veg out to, but it’s not so hard-nosed that it becomes a chore to watch. Howard makes the film engaging and accessible to most audiences while keeping it very smart, political and fast paced. Even if you have no real interest in Richard Nixon or never heard of David Frost, you can enjoy the film while learning a lot. It could also be a great tool for students, but with an R rating for language, it becomes a judgement call.
“You could see it in Frost’s face. If he didn’t know the caliber of the man that he was up against before the interview started, he certainly knew it halfway through the President’s first answer.”