Review: Frost/Nixon (2008)

frostnixonmovie

Richard Nixon is a powerful, powerful man and Frank Langella is an amazing actor.

Screenplay By: Peter Morgan
Directed By: Ron Howard

Power is an amazing thing to witness when used by Richard Nixon. He gains power through holding the office of the President of the United States of America. But, more than that he gains power and holds power over others through his mere presence. Nixon commands the room the moment he enters and he is a master tactician that can twist and turn a conversation any way that he wants through his wit and yes, even his charm. In Frost/Nixon Ron Howard has used Frank Langella to show us the power that was Richard Nixon and at the very end the very human nature that was behind that power. Mr. Langella has always been an actor I respected, but his performance as Nixon is one of the best of all time. Every time he is on screen he roots you to his every movement, you can’t take your eyes off of him. Mr. Langella is Richard Nixon, he is the President, and he is the power. I rarely make proclamations in my reviews about awards and such, but if anyone outside of Mr. Langella wins a best supporting award at any award show or on any critics list then those lists are flawed. I can’t use enough words to describe the pure power that Mr. Langella brought to the screen with his every movement, every word, and every breath.

The rest of the cast was rounded out superbly by a great leading performance from the uber talented Michael Sheen, and the necessarily perfunctory roles played by Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell. Those roles may have been perfunctory but they did a good job of making those minor characters matter. The best performance outside of Mr. Langella’s was that of Kevin Bacon who gave a tortured portrayal of a true believer. As Nixon’s Chief of Staff Jack Brennan, he knows that Nixon is crooked, but he believes in the man. He is wrong to believe of course, but that doesn’t matter to Brennan because he believes in Nixon as a man and he will follow him into hell because of that. I’ve always known that Mr. Bacon was capable of so much more as an actor and his role as Jack Brennan confirms that.

Ron Howard did a tremendous job of using the interview to create a compelling story. By itself the idea of an interview with the President, even if it is Nixon, doesn’t sound that riveting, but Mr. Howard uses great character placement and build to make it into not an interview but a battle. The character of Jack Brennan makes a boxing analogy and that is what the interview comes across as. You feel for Frost as Nixon batters him into oblivion over those first few days and at the same time you fear the powerful Nixon. Then you rejoice when the plucky Frost makes a comeback and staggers the leviathan, bringing him down from his lofty perch and winning the battle.

The one flaw in Frost/Nixon was the ending, or the additional ending in my eyes. Frost/Nixon should have ended with the image of a beaten Nixon getting into his limo. That scene conveyed the humanity he did possess and showed that even though he may have been a criminal he was still capable of feeling remorse, of realizing he had made a mistake. That while he needed to pay for what he had done he need not be vilified because in the end he is human just like you or I. Unfortunately the movie didn’t end though and the following talking heads and final meeting between Frost and Nixon seemed forced and tacked on. Instead of ending with a bang Frost/Nixon ended with a muted whimper.

2008 has been a great year for films, surprisingly so even. Frost/Nixon is yet another great movie to add to an already great list. It features a for the ages performance from Frank Langella and is a well-crafted drama that will keep you interested the entire way through. I don’t know if this movie will have the impact that it should, but Frost/Nixon is a film that needs to be seen.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill Thompson

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