May 11, 2009

Ron HowardFrost/Nixon has to have one of the more interesting pedigrees of any film in recent years:  televised interviews about historical events, dramatized into an award-winning play, which was then adapted into an Academy-Award-nominated movie.  And yet the resultant motion picture remains as gripping as the original interviews must have been when first broadcast (alas, I was too young at the time to remember them).

Frost/Nixon is as much about the lead up to and circumstances surrounding the famous David Frost interviews of Richard Nixon as the interviews themselves.  The film injects verbal sparring with a tension more reminiscent of a political thriller-which, of course, isn’t that far from the case, considering the interviews’ subject matter.  Considering how many dialogue-driven character dramas these days fall completely flat, it’s a joy to see one that is truly enthralling.


Although the film does not feel “play-like”, the writing exhibits the strength that is the hallmark of so many play adaptations.  Strong plays often make strong films when adapted correctly-Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, anyone?  That having been said, Frost/Nixon is not without it’s flaws.  The talking-heads pseudo-documentary approach reflecting back upon the events I thought was disruptive to the main flow of the action.  Bookends of such would have been fine, but not the frequent interruptions that they were (ironically, I can picture those working excellently on stage).  On the other hand, the use of actual video footage from is very effective at setting the mood.

The cast is phenomenal, especially Frank Langella in his Oscar-nominated turn as Nixon.  Michael Sheen is likewise strong as the playboy host turned hardcore journalist David Frost.  Any weakness between these two actors and the film would have completely unhinged.  The supporting cast all perform admirably, with Kevin Bacon deserving special note as Jack Brennan, Nixon’s devoutly loyal aide.

frost_nixon_movie_image_michael_sheen__oliver_platt__sam_rockwell.jpgThe best moments-those that really make the film-are those brief interchanges, some almost asides, that Langella shares with the other actors.  It is these moments that reveal the complexity of Nixon’s character outside his political persona, from his darkness to even his humanity.

Video / Audio / Extras

Picture and sound are great; even the archival video footage from the seventies is in excellent shape.  I’m assuming the original broadcasts must have gone extensive restoration for optimal quality, considering how video from the time period generally suffers worse than film.

Special feature-wise, the DVD includes your typical director’s audio commentary and making-of featurette; nothing special there.  The deleted scenes were wise exclusions from the final film; with the exception of an extended and humorous “preparation for the interviews” montage, the deletions would have slowed the movie without adding any worthwhile character or plot points.  For no discernible reason, the deleted scenes are included only as a single playable track, without a submenu to describe the individual scenes or allow the viewer to pick and choose.  Quite frustrating.

Two other featurettes do prove more interesting.  “The Nixon Library” provides additional insight into Nixon and who he really was.  “The Real Interview” shows how intriguing the actual interviews were-and just how accurate the movie was in replicating them.

Final Words

Taut and gripping while delivering perspective on events of historical import.  A great film.

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