Friday, April 24, 2009


I don't usually watch the in-flight movie, but I made an exception for "Frost/Nixon." I came from a long line of vehement Nixon-haters, and Watergate was one of my very first obsessions - I watched almost all of the hearings on TV, I still have all of the TIME Magazines from the era, and and I wrote my 8th Grade term paper about the scandal (for which I - ahem - received an "A+"). So I was looking forward to the film, and disappointed when it disappeared from Sacramento theaters well before the Academy Awards ceremony.

It is a very good movie and I enjoyed it, but it fell short of greatness. Michael Sheen was very good as David Frost, but never during the film could I muster much interest or sympathy for the Frost character. And even in the moments of angst, I couldn't quite figure out why I should care. Sam Rockwell and Oliver Platt were also good (as James Reston Jr. and Bob Zelnick, respectively), but I'm still waiting for the day when Rockwell makes the leap into stardom - because I think he deserves it. Kevin Bacon was his usual solid self as Jack Brennan, though I don't think it stretched him much. Of the supporting cast, Matthew Macfadyen may have been the best, as Frost's producer John Birt.

Which leaves Frank Langella. And he was great - didn't sound a lot like Nixon (though he had the cadence down pat) and certainly didn't look much like Nixon, but overall I thought he nailed the famous "Nixon insecurity" perfectly. In my book, Nixon remains one of the most fascinating political characters of my lifetime - it is simply amazing that someone as paranoid, and with such feet of clay, could have advanced so far and achieved what he did. And it was certainly no surprise that someone as smart and conniving as Nixon could easily take advantage of someone as glib and shallow as David Frost.

The biggest flaw of the film has nothing to do with the film-making: after all, you can only do so much when your source material lacks basic drama. And frankly, as interesting as the interviews were, they were almost entirely lacking in drama. And what was built up as the big relevation, Nixon saying that if the President does it, it isn't illegal, was hardly the stuff that would make Edward Murrow proud.

Overall, a very good movie brought to that level by the great performance of Frank Langella.

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