Because Richard Nixon was the first President for whom I could have voted for – I didn’t – he has long held a special role in my life and my heart. In the day, it was nothing but anger and revulsion; since then, a more nuanced view. At the time, I thought he was destined to be one of the United States’ worst Presidents; in hindsight, merely one that was fatally flawed.
I saw the Oliver Stone-directed movie Nixon (1995), starring Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen, when it came out, with its warts and all. I enjoyed it well enough, but its quirky narrative style sometimes got in the way.
So last weekend, the wife and I did one of those “split date” things, with me going to the movies on Saturday and her on Sunday to see the more “conventional” filmmaker Ron Howard’s take on an event that took place after the Nixon Presidency, but which was necessarily all about it, Frost/Nixon.
I’ve found that a great number of people no longer remember David Frost, the “British satirist, writer, journalist and television presenter” who interviewed Nixon in 1977. There’s no current comparison who fully encapsulates it, but it’d be like Jay Leno or Larry King doing a hard-hitting interview of George W. Bush.
Most people who disliked Nixon wanted the interviews to be the mea culpa that Nixon never gave after the resignation, but felt that Frost was a lightweight who was was not up to the task. So it was that each participant had something to prove. Frost/Nixon turns out to be an intriguing film, not just the one-on-one, but the whole backstory leading up to the main event, including the need to secure the $600,000 for the interview, the slams of “checkbook journalism” and the desire to get the interview right.
Frost/Nixon is another play that was made into a movie. But unlike Doubt, it didn’t feel as stagy. One would not expect a historically-based movie about two guys talking to be so tense and yet so revealing of both men. Frank Langella, who is rightly nominated for best actor, “does” Nixon without being a caricature. In fact, the most revealing scene has Langella saying nothing. But look at his eyes! They spoke volumes about what was going on in Nixon’s mind. But the movie would collapse if Michael Sheen as Frost was not up to the task. Sheen, who played Tony Blair in 2006’s The Queen, ends up being as worthy an acting partner for Langella as Frost was an adversary for Nixon.
Some critics inevitably kvetched about historic inaccuracies here and there, which almost always happens. I wondered if the last scene – which is REALLY funny – actually happened; it matters not. I was entertaned and I learned a few things.
Frost, who has interviewed the last seven U.S. Presidents and six British Prime Ministers (excluding, so far, the current ones) now works for Al Jazeera English.