The world does not always see the American people is a flattering light. They may be too distracted at times, allowing for their governments to do whatever they want while they aren’t looking but one thing is for certain, they don’t like being lied to. Be forewarned all future American presidents, if you’re going to lie, don’t get caught doing so. Former President, Richard Nixon, will forever be remembered for his lies but will always be despised for his inability to admit his guilt in the Watergate scandals or apologize for his betrayal of the people’s trust. Ron Howard’s film adaptation of the Tony winning stage play “Frost/Nixon” does nothing to exonerate Nixon but rather puts forth the importance and necessity for remorse and forgiveness. In doing so, he has crafted his most cerebral film without overcomplicating the issues and more importantly, his film will serve as a challenge to the American people to demand the respect they deserve from their elected officials.
“Frost/Nixon” is not just about the bigger issues but also the people directly involved. David Frost (Michael Sheen) is a struggling, British television personality. He has tried his hand at American success and failed but sees securing the first television interview with Richard Nixon after he shamefully left office as his ticket. Anyone, of course, would but Nixon (Frank Langella) wasn’t making anything easy. He wanted an exorbitant amount of money for the interview and Frost was having extreme difficulty finding financing backers and advertisers because people did not believe he could pull off what was necessary in order for the interview to be considered a success. Nixon, on the other hand, needed Frost to serve as a bridge to the people, to remind them of his humanity and regain their trust through simply being himself. They each had much at stake and they each had teams of people in their corners making sure their best interest were being served at all times. Somewhere beneath all smoke and mirrors was the truth of it all, just hoping to make itself known.
Langella and Sheen are the perfect team. They play off each other with great respect, both in their characters and as actors who originated these roles on Broadway when the play first began. In fact, Howard refused to adapt the film if it meant doing it with other actors in the parts. Langella won the Tony for his stage performance and his Nixon is bold, determined, naïve while still commanding and at the most vulnerable of moments, he is frightened that he can never go back. His part is naturally more showy but that does not mean there is nothing left for Sheen to work with. His Frost is nervous, ambitious and also just as naïve and frightened as his counterpart. Watching the two of them face off in interview is engaging and suspenseful as you wait impatiently for one to make a mistake. Documenting an interview runs the risk of being fairly static but Howard’s direction ensures that there is movement and momentum even when the two are just sitting across from each other. In fact, despite the palpable tension he creates on screen, Howard seems more relaxed than I’m accustomed to him being.
While Howard helms with a comfortable control, it is Peter Morgan’s adaptation of his own stage play that serves as the film’s true substance. He succeeds again, as he did with “The Queen”, in bridging the gap between the public and the intensely private, only this time the castle gates that separated the people from their Queen have been replaced by another barrier, television. “Frost/Nixon” takes the notion of spin and slows it down until it becomes perspective, allowing for the distance between a president and the people to be narrowed as much as is possible. And while the close-up can be terribly unforgiving, it is also the one shot we’re all waiting for in order to attain the understanding needed in order to heal.
Review by Joseph Bélanger