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Frost/Nixon

Movie title: Frost/Nixon (2008)
Grade: A+ (4 stars)
Rated: R
Summation: British talk show host David Frost confronts disgraced 37th president Richard M. Nixon.
Spoilers ahead: No

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How interesting can a movie that centers on politics be? And how far can such a film be expected to go in a day and age where most college freshmen have only heard the name “Watergate” and barely know that it doesn’t involve “water” or “gates”? The answer to the first question is, “Very” and to the second, “Very far.”

Love or hate politics, you’ll likely love this film, and you don’t need to know anything about politics to get it. The movie walks you through a highly dramatized version of the scandal involving the 37th president of the United States. It opens with the going-down of the break-in at the Watergate Hotel in D.C. and swiftly moves along to key interviewers and facts. With the building of the story and the characters comes a compelling script beyond what you would expect from any film on a presidential scandal.

It takes some skill to turn a series of interviews on Watergate and nefarious accomplishments of a president into verbal boxing matches with the adrenaline that only a Rocky fight could bring. But that’s what is done—and done well!

Nixon’s resignation from the office of the presidency on August 8, 1974 was (to date) the first time in American history where a president resigned from office, but his resignation was unaccompanied by an apology. It was the Frost/Nixon interviews that drew out (according to some) a much needed apology when America was still reeling from the affair, which involved illegal wiretapping, theft, burglary, extortion, bribery, and obstruction/destruction of evidence charges from 1972-74.

Was going after Nixon really a tall order? No. Both Nixon and Frost looked forward to profits from the interview sales. But yes, according to the movie. The Duke Law School graduate with an IQ of 144 and a background in debate possessed an eloquence and charisma that made him more than a match for the charming-but-virtually-unknown British talk show host. In Frost/Nixon, you have a David and Goliath battle of wits.

The winsome Michael Sheen’s David Frost was an accomplished performance, but beyond being upstaged was Frank Langella who doesn’t play Nixon, he becomes him! At no time this year have I seen an actor so in-sync with a character save Heath Ledger’s Joker.

You needn’t worry about searching for some errors or factual omissions. They are there (or, not there, depending on what you are looking for). But this isn’t a biographical historical account. The movie was based on a successful Broadway Play. Yes, there was embellishment – plenty of it – and some would say, distortion. A movie of Nixon schooling a Class-A intellectual Frost could have well been made had one desired to read history in that light. The Frost in the movie wasn’t as sluggish of a thinker as he was portrayed to be, and Nixon wasn’t as jovial as he came off. What we have here is drama, not a documentary, but the drama we have is top notch.

The filming of the movie interviews was done in the same hotel suite of the original presidential interviews, and the Nixon California home is revisited as Frost meets with the ex-president in preparation for the exchanges. The entertainment value of the film is rich enough to turn a “boring” historical event into an amazingly engrossing film. When not serious, it is funny. When funny, it is classy. When it is serious, it is stirringly so.

When the facts are fudged, it is done in the name of staggering drama, drama that speaks to the inner being. In addition to being a sharp and eloquent debater, Nixon has an alcohol problem (it seems he did in real life) and a tendency to throw off Sharp’s interviews by asking outrageous and inappropriate personal questions to derail his thinking. Nixon looks at Frost and sees a mental midget; Frost looks at Nixon and sees a defunct ruler, an insolent man, the political embodiment of American corruption.

The platinum value of Frost/Nixon is seen in award nominations too numerous to list, but also in a movie crafted and edited to excellence. This flavorful expose of Nixon’s shortcomings is dicing and oh-so-well brought out.

At the conclusion of the interviews, Nixon is exiting the hotel. He sees a woman holding a dog. He asks her: “Is this what you call a Doxon?” She says yes. He briefly pets the dog on the head and then gets into his limo and is driven away. The meaning of the encounter doesn’t become clear until the last time Frost and Nixon meet at Nixon’s home. There, the ex-president shares that one of his staff loves dogs. His petting the dog was merely his trying to emulate the love in others around him because he was void of it himself—an unethical attack on Nixon for sure, and untrue (Nixon really loved dogs), but brilliantly done, as was everything in the movie.

(JH)

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Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Frank Langella “Richard Nixon,” Michael Sheen “David Frost,” Sam Rockwell “James Reston, Jr.,” Kevin Bacon “Jack Brennan,” Matthew Macfadyen “John Birt,” Oliver Platt “Bob Zelnick,” Rebecca Hall “Caroline Cushing,” Toby Jones “Swifty Lazar,” Andy Milder “Frank Gannon,” Kate Jennings Grant “Diane Sawyer”
Genre: Drama/History

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