Fri 12 Dec 2008
I’ll get you … and your little dog too.
2008 GOLDEN MUG NOMINEE:
Best Actor (Frank Langella)
Best Adapted Screenplay (Peter Morgan (screenplay & original play))
Best Score (Hans Zimmer)
Anyone with a basic American high school education knows about the Watergate scandal, which began as five men broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters. The scandal as a whole encompassed numerous acts on behalf or orchestrated by President Nixon to skirt the legal system while he was in office.
Director Ron Howard’s film, “Frost/Nixon”, centers around a well-known series of interviews between Nixon and British television host David Frost. From the outset, Frost and his team sought to bring about an admission of guilt and an apology to the American people for the wrong-doing perpetrated by Nixon and his staff. President Ford’s pardon of Nixon may have exonerated him from criminal prosecution but it was seen as a necessary element of closure to hear Nixon admit the things that happened, rather than to have heard what happened second-hand.
Tackling this subject asks for a lot from the two principal actors and the casting department definitely earned their money with Michael Sheen as David Frost and Frank Langella portraying President Nixon. Both will likely be up for their share of awards in the coming months and have legitimate shots at winning … if they don’t cancel each other’s votes out in the process.
I’ll start the praise with Langella, as his performance is truly one of the year’s best. There were multiple moments where I felt the line between Langella and Nixon was blurred, if not obliterated. While it’s quite easy to demonize a fallen political figure, especially one of such a high profile, where Langella succeeds the most is in the quiet moments taking place behind Nixon’s eyes. He humanizes the 37th President of the United States in such a sincere and heartfelt way and it reminds me that while he may have left office under public outrage, there was a time that people elected him to the Oval Office – showing that his charisma and certainty (some would say arrogance) made a positive impact on people not so long before his resignation.
In the opposite chair, asking the questions is Michael Sheen – who is making a habit of high-profile political films it seems, what with “The Queen” and now this. While he’s not playing the elected official here, his presence on-screen and ability to match up to Langella’s portrayal is exceptional. Frost put himself on the line – financially, professional and emotionally – to bring about the interview. A failure to evoke an admission of guilt or remorse from Nixon would mean ruination.
The two spar both with words and veiled intent. It’s a test of endurance to see who will ultimately gain the upper hand. Almost like a prize fight, each round is scored to different opponents and it’s this intellectual give and take that will keep your attention, even if you already know the details presented in the 1977 broadcast.
The production value of the entire project is quite high and I’m always happy to see Ron Howard cast his brother Clint (this time as one of the TV crew). The supporting cast is also up to the task, most notably Kevin Bacon who portrays Nixon’s chief of staff, Jack Brennan, after he had left the White House. Brennan’s protective nature towards the President is touching and his admiration of Nixon is evident, almost like that of a son towards his father.
Another notable high point of the production is Hans Zimmer’s score, which seemed to hit the right note as the tug-of-war went back and forth between Frost and Nixon. It was especially nice that Howard allowed for moments of silence during key scenes, so that the full gravity of what was going on could sink into the audience. This only made the reappearance of Zimmer’s work that much more effective and kept from the more common filmmaking technique of leading the audience through the music – telling them what they should be feeling at any particular moment.
All in all, “Frost/Nixon” is a great achievement and anyone who enjoys these political quasi-bio-pic efforts will surely enjoy this film. I’m giving it a 4 out of 5 and look forward to seeing how the film will do as the pretty statues and star-studded galas get underway shortly.