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Non-Review Review: Frost/Nixon

When I saw Frost/Nixon in the cinema, I came out thinking it was the second best film of last year. How does my opinion hold up?

For a guy who isn't a crook, he sure has his "caught in the act" pose well-rehearsed

For a guy who isn't a crook, he sure has his "caught in the act" pose well-rehearsed

I sat down with the family to rewatch the film last weekend, with a bit of anxiety. I’m a bit of a history buff, and I know that the move took some liberties (arguably more with tone than with events, but still liberties) with history in order to generate a great high stakes game between the two players in this battle of wits. I was as impressed with the movie the second time around, taking the time to savor two fantastic lead performances and an bizarre marriage of a game of global proportions with a standard college movie plot device.

The plot in analogous to those movies where the playful Jack-the-lad, having blissfully and hedonistically wasted his college days away, must deliver a show-stopping performance on that final exam. Of course, one night of studying is presented as all that is needed to not only pass, but achieve a record grade. It’s a cliche, but it actually works better here than it does in most other contexts. Perhaps because it is anchored in stylish and non-obtrusive direction and rock solid ensemble performances. A lot of critics singled out The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as the prestige picture in last year’s Best Picture race, with a graceful and stately air that harked back to the golden days of Hollywood. I’d argue that Frost/Nixon arguably deserves the title more, as it achieves a classy approach without ever being boring, offers a depiction of period without ever being overwhelming and charts its significant character arcs with a whisp of tragedy without seeming exploitive. And, unlike Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon never seems self-indulgent.

Of course, any “clash of the titans” movie is anchored in its lead performances. Frank Langella is a fantastic Nixon. Like Anthony Hopkins before him, he doesn’t resort to cheap mimicry or imitation (which marred the presentation of the character in Watchmen, for example), instead seeking to inhabit the character. Within five minutes Langella will have you convinced you’re watching Nixon, even though he doesn’t particularly look or sound like him. Such a performance is inherently showy, although it deserved all the nominations garnered on it. Though Langella helps us understand Nixon, it is Michael Sheen who must make us empathise with Frost. The role isn’t a forgiving one (Frost is arrogant, self-righteous and over-estimates himself, all while chasing women and fame), but Sheen casts the character in a sympathetic light. Frost is never as irritating and grating to the audience as he is to his colleagues, which is really quite an achievement, and Sheen gives us reason to invest in an under-written romantic subplot.

The rest of the performances are solid and reliable, with Sam Rockwell and Kevin Bacon standing out on opposite sides. Rebecca Hall is not given a large enough role to show her tremendous talent, and Oliver Platt is similarly pigeon-holed. Matthew Macfadyen does well in very stereotypical support role as Frost’s bewildered producer.

The film is a fantastic character study of two individuals on opposite trajectories. Though certain elements are fabricated (and the summary text at the end is extremely biased), it does offer a nice little insight into one of the least-explored major media events of the last fity years.
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Frost/Nixon is directed by Ron Howard (The DaVinci Code, Apollo 13) and stars Frank Langella (Superman Returns, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and Michael Sheen (The Queen, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, Blood Diamond), with supporting turns from Kevin Bacon (Footloose, Hallow Man), Oliver Platt (The West Wing), Sam Rockwell (Galaxy Quest, Moon), Toby Jones (The Mist, W.), Rebecca Hall (The Prestige, Vicky Christina Barcelona) and Matthew Macfadyen (Spooks, Pride & Prejudice). It was released worldwide on 23rd January 2009 (with an earlier limited release to secure an Oscar nomination).

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11 Responses

  1. […] with Helen Mirren winning an Oscar for The Queen and Frank Langella receiving a nomination for Frost/Nixon. Even though Dennis Quaid may test the scope of Sheen’s powers, I wouldn’t bet against […]

  2. […] of film « Avatar – Hollywood Continues to Break New Ground with Blockbusters Non-Review Review: Frost/Nixon […]

  3. […] Non-Review Review: Frost/Nixon « the m0vie blog Says: June 18, 2009 at 9:21 pm | Reply […]

  4. […] because I’ve been seeing quite a few historical films lately – The Reader, Chaplin, and Frost/Nixon will hopefully be arriving in my mailbox today – and I just wondered how faithful it was […]

  5. […] & Demons is the new film from Ron Howard (Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon), starring Tom Hanks (Cast Away, Forrest Gump), Ewan McGregor (the Star Wars prequels, Shallow […]

  6. […] – and before you label me as an indie-loving arthouse snob, my top two were The Dark Knight and Frost/Nixon. The film was about as non-commercial as you can get: next to no dialogue for the superior first […]

  7. […] seen over time. Older voters would have strongly championed conventional choices like The Reader, Frost/Nixon and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, with the more independent and fringe members voting for […]

  8. […] Hairspray), Cameron Diaz (The Mask, There’s Something About Mary) and Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon, Superman Returns). It is released on the 30th October 2009 in the United States, but us Irish will […]

  9. […] Rickman (Die Hard, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Frost/Nixon), Tony Shalhoub (Monk, Gattaca), Justin long (Live Free and Die Hard, Zack and Miri Make a Porno) […]

  10. […] Looking at our five nominees, it’s easy to see the older members being won over by Frost/Nixon, The Reader and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and seeing younger members voting for Slumdog […]

  11. […] to be the opening salvo of a trilogy. It stars Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Frost/Nixon) and the voice of Kevin Spacey (American Beauty, The Usual Suspects). It was released in the US on […]

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