Frost/Nixon: a review

by

Jenny Haines

A Ron Howard Film for Universal Studios starring Frank Langella as Richard Nixon and Michael Sheen as David Frost. Now showing, all cinemas

In this film Ron Howard brings to the screen a Broadway play about a series of interviews David Frost did with Richard Nixon after his resignation from the US presidency.

I had some hesitation in going to this movie as I could not predict how a film about a series of interviews could maintain sufficient dramatic tension to avoid boredom, but Ron Howard has pulled it off.

I was enthralled and engaged by the mounting tension between Frost and Nixon as the interviews drew near, and were then conducted.

Frost risked everything for the venture, which he saw, and still sees, as the greatest challenge of his journalistic and talk-show-host career. Nixon saw the interviews as a way to absolve himself, and gain re-entry to respectable political circles after the shame and disgrace of Watergate and his forced resignation.

Both sides in the mounting psychological war between the two men put together crack teams of researchers who delved into previously unrevealed material for Frost to put to Nixon

The early part of the film focuses on the bringing together of the Frost team and interviews with them about the project, most notably with Wes Preston, who advised Ron Howard on making the film, according to the credits.

Preston was the hard man of the team, the realist, the person who wanted the Frost interviews to be the trial that Nixon was never put through, because Gerald Ford pardoned him. The team work hard and develop a thorough series of questions that cover the whole of the Nixon Presidency, foreign affairs, Vietnam, domestic matters, Richard Nixon the man and of course Watergate.

At first Frost is overwhelmed by the craftiness of the old fox, Richard Nixon, and Frost himself is disappointed with his own performance. In the background, Frost is facing mounting difficulties keeping the project going.

Rejected by the TV networks because he was asking them to pay for news interviews, he by hook or by crook has to drag money out of doubting friends and investors. The project runs for months on a shoestring and the smell of an oily rag.

Frost loses his regular shows in Australia and almost loses his London work, but he has a fierce determination driven by events, and his obsession with the intricate character of Richard Nixon.

Nixon is played masterfully by Frank Langella, who in my view should be nominated for an Oscar for his performance. His facial expressions alone portray Nixon’s complex character brilliantly, especially when he, as part of the interviews is forced to watch the butchery in Cambodia during the incursion that Nixon authorised against all advice, including the advice of the CIA, and at the end of the film, when he is a man alone in exile in California.

Frost is well played by Michael Sheen, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Frost and speaks with his plummy accent

Frost was a playboy, but for this film one of the subtexts is his developing relationship with his wife, who loyally stands by him through thick and thin and encourages him to keep going even in the darkest moments.

The film ends well and the psychological war is won, but only by one party, David Frost, later Sir David Frost.

There is no doubt about the timing of this movie: the end of a presidency in which the US President has brought shame and disgrace on the office and the country.

Is Ron Howard saying through this film that someone should do the same to George Bush? That Bush should be put on public trial for the acts and omissions of his presidency? That Bush should be made to apologise to the people of the US for bringing the country to such a low point in its history, and making the US so loathed on the world stage?

There is also no doubt in this film that Ron Howard is realistic about power and the exercise of power by the US president, but he seeks and succeeds in drawing the line between what is an acceptable exercise of power, what is a “mistake” and what is criminal.

All political science students should see this film.

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