8 August 2014

Politic-a-thon 2: Frost/Nixon Review

So today is the final film in the sub-set of reviews focused on Richard Nixon, with this film focusing on the aftermath of Watergate, in particular a key event in which Nixon essentially confessed to a cover-up; the interviews he did with David Frost. These interviews were such an important event in the political landscape that a top notch writer and director were needed in order to do justice to the event. Thankfully, this film has Peter Morgan writing (doing an adaptation of his stage play) and Ron Howard directing.
The plot of the film concerns the build up to and the conducting of the interviews between David Frost (at the time best known for satirical programmes That Was The Week That Was and The Frost Report (the later of which being the forerunner to Monty Python) and talk shows) and Richard Nixon. Out of the gate, the film shows that Frost is completely out of his depth and Nixon walks all over him in the early stages of filming, which is especially problematic as Frost had to finance the interviews out of his own pocket and if there was no real confirmation of Nixon's involvement with Watergate, Frost would be bankrupt and Nixon would be exonerated. This all leads to a battle of wills between Nixon and Frost with the final interview filming coming up, the one focused on Watergate. Something that I really like is that Morgan and Howard stage the film like a documentary, filling it with talking head interviews from the characters which helps lend this sense of credibility to the film. I also really like the slow changes present in Frost's character as he realises that he is completely out of his depth and is going to ruin his career and, since his other shows had been cancelled by the time of the interviews (according to the film) we fully understand the constant optimism that Frost has, along with the pressure that leads to him fumbling the early interviews. I also like how Nixon is portrayed in the film, starting off as someone who wants to put Watergate behind him, using the interviews as a means to an end, but by the end, we see this sense of respect that Nixon has for Frost (when at the start Nixon deliberately threw off Frost in order to make himself look better) along with the shared background that they both have, both of them working their way up from lower class origins, through the establishment, to become highly respected figures. This helps to show how strong the battle of wills between the two is and how important the interviews are for both of them.

The performances meanwhile are top notch. Michael Sheen brings the great sense of optimism and charm to David Frost, along with the fear that the project will fail, helping to show both how Frost became such a womaniser and how he was able to reach the top of his game, but also showing that all of it can come crashing around him at any time and when he finally asserts himself in the final interview, Sheen plays it perfectly. Frank Langella meanwhile gives the best portrayal of Richard Nixon on screen, showing the ruthlessness of the character along with the vulnerability and fear that all of his good work in office in regards to relations with China and Russia will be undone by Watergate. He also shows a lot of charm, which allowed people to trust Nixon and get people on his side in the early stages of the interviews which helps to show just how big a threat Nixon was to Frost. There are also great turns by Matthew Macfadyen (who I feel is one of the most underappreciated actors working today), Sam Rockwell and Oliver Platt and John Birt, James Reston Jr and Bob Zelnick, the people most involved with investigating Nixon, with a lot of the best comedic moments in the film coming from these three with Rockwell being the highlight, showing the great sense of personal responsibility he has towards getting a confession from Nixon. There are also good performances in supporting parts from Rebecca Hall, Kevin Bacon and Toby Jones, with Jones in particular going all out in the handful of scenes he has as Swifty Lazar.

Overall, Frost/Nixon is a great film. Excellent performances from Michael Sheen and Frank Langella, matched with a great script from Peter Morgan, makes this film a really tense, engaging and, in some instances, humourous look at the interview process, showing how important the battle of wills between these two men was, both to the world at large and to the people involved.

My Rating: 5/5

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