Sunday 25 January 2009

Review: Frost/Nixon

Year: 2008
Director: Ron Howard
Screenplay: Peter Morgan
Starring: Micheal Sheen. Frank Langella, Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon

So I got up today feeling like crap. I didn't sleep properly, it was raining outside, I missed the end of Sunday Supplement due to the girlfriend wishing to watch Buffy instead (she hates football, it's a tragedy) and apart from Sunday lunch, I didn't have nothing to look forward to. My Girlfriend suggest going to the cinema but I really couldn't be arsed, reason being? It's January and it's difficult to get into the mood to go to the cinema when the choice of movie seemed to fall into three categories: Depressing, Seen it, Nazis. I could be be up for a depressing Nazi movie tomorrow, but today nothing was biting.

I knew I wasn't going to get out of this so I asked my girlfriend to pick the movie. She picks Frost/Nixon. "It seemed the best out of a bad bunch." I thought to myself. Considering the material the film was based on, I couldn't see this being a "happy" film. So off to the cinema we go and after my other half yelling at traffic we manage to park up, get our ticket and go into the movie. After two hours my mood was relieved, reason being? Frost/Nixon was bloody brilliant.

The film is a fictionalized account of the build up and filming of the infamous interviews between Frost and Nixon. Despite being fictionalized, Howard does his best to blur the lines between the fact and fabrication and delivers a tense drama which shows how much television has affected politics. Also despite historical inaccuracies Howard delivers a film which helped me "discover" more about these two men. I knew them by name but I honestly didn't know very much about the interviews and lets be honest I feel there's a lot of people my age that probably don't. I personally feel my generation can be very ignorant when it comes to aspects of history, myself included. It's a testament to the filmmakers that after I watched Frost/Nixon i wished to know more about the scandal and the interviews. In face I wanted to read up more about Nixon than the film, so while the film isn't historically correct, it is insightful enough for viewers to become more interested in political history so they can search for the information themselves.

Credit must go to screenwriter Peter Morgan who once again delivers characters full of complexity and depth. None of the characters are strictly black and white, just shades of gray. He wants us as an audience to make up our mind. Did Frost "win"? was Nixon truly as sinister and devious as he was made out to be?

The beauty of the drama lies within the screenplay displaying every person as flawed human beings. At one moment we see Nixon as a political powerhouse, his presence and stature is almost regal. The more we see of him as the film goes on the more the vulnerability appears. We see the cracks in the veneer as we see the hints of guilt eating away at him. Frost on the other hand is full of charm and grins a man of much talk and very little action. The early stages of the film show a true David/Goliath mismatch as Frost first comes across as a car salesman more than a hard hitting presenter.

The script shows us the type of people both used for the interviews; Frost has a team filled with rabble rousers and a long suffering producer, while Nixon has a trusty team of right wing yes men. By the end of the first act I really wondered "is this the guy who does breakfast with frost?". Nixon looks like he could batter Frost away with a hand wave. How the script sets up the two titular characters make the outcome even more entertaining and with that said the script does not disappoint as the film takes hold with a vice grip and never releases the tension until the credits.

Ok ok babbling now. But I loved the screenplay. The only thing I liked better? The cast. Micheal Sheen and Frank Langella don't play the roles as charactures. They fully embody what made the men at the time. Sheen plays Frost as slickly as possible, full of cheeky grins and knowing winks. What makes him so watchable is the lack of knowledge about what he's taking on. It's this ignorance that makes Sheen so watchable in the later stages when he falls upon a moment of luck and seizes on it like a jackal. Langella makes sure his Nixon isn't all big cheeks and sweat and locks into a nobility that makes him extremely watchable. Howard does a great service of bringing some of the best working character actors for the support. Kevin Bacon puts in a solid effort as Jack Brennan it's a role so good that you could swear he was a Republican (if he is then brownie points taken away). I haven't seen Oliver Platt so good in a movie for ages while Rockwell is his reliable self again despite needing more to do in the movie. Kudos must also go to Matthew Macfadyen as Frost long suffering producer John Birt, his interaction with Sheen is brilliant.

Howard directs the film with a nail biting tension in nearly very scene but keeps the films pace swift throughout. I'm not the biggest fan of his films, so to see him bring out such an engrossing drama like this (haven't seen Apollo 13 yet i know, shame on me!) is great. Especially as his film before that was the dreary Di Vinci Code. He also (with the help of the screenplay) humanizes Nixon to a great extent, which to me is a great thing. In softening the former president, not only he makes him more accessible but also helps remind the audience that not only this President was a man but also one that wasn't all bad. We see the good as well as the bad in Nixon and while I don't condone what he did...I left the film with a larger amount of respect for him. Nixon was hated but compared to the one who just left...well the less said the better.

My review for Frost/Nixon is over long, rambling and muddled..however the film is not and it's entertaining to boot. Go see it.