2008 | Director: Ron Howard | Writer: Peter Morgan | Academy Award Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor, Directing, Writing (Adapted Screenplay), Best Editing
Compared to the Watergate scandal that birthed them, David Frost’s 1977 interviews with President Richard Nixon were hardly historic events. Frost, an English celebrity talk show host with a waning reputation, had managed to secure exclusive rights to film an interview with the disgraced Nixon, who had planned on rejuvenating his battered image in the eyes of the public. In reality, a mostly amiable series of interviews followed, culminating in an implied admission of guilt from Nixon regarding the cover-up. Many people watched the interviews, but little came of them, tangibly. Not the stuff of good drama, to be honest.
However, Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon changes that, flitting over facts, dates, and political ideals to get to the heart of the story, a duel between men whose backs were against walls of their own making. It says much about Howard and source playwright Peter Morgan that this film manages to wring an incredible amount of tension out of an ostensibly irrelevant happening; where some of the other Best Picture Oscar nominees (specifically, The Reader and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) slow their tales to standstills in order to examine the morals and values of their particular eras, Frost/Nixon ramps up the suspense and pace to near action-movie levels, making the outcome of the combatants’ battle of utter importance, and in this day and age, relevance.
Michael Sheen and Frank Langella reprise their West End and Broadway roles as Frost and Nixon, respectively; the former injecting his role with a misleading foppishness, while Langella spends the first half of the film sounding more like Jimmy Stewart than our nation’s 37th President. But as the immediacy of “winning” the interviews becomes apparent to both men, especially following a stunning moment in which a drunk Nixon calls Frost and thunders about their shared purpose, both actors seem to evolve into different people. Langella, for one, turns in the performance of a lifetime, ably downshifting from frightening, defensive rage to shell-shocked defeat in the course of one devastating exchange with the newly capable Frost.
More than just showcasing exemplary acting, Frost/Nixon renews Ron Howard’s position as one of the more adept thespian wranglers Hollywood has to offer, as well as reminding those of us who aren’t so fond of his forays into the world of Dr. Seuss that the man who was Opie can still achieve masterful levels of suspense in his filmmaking. Most of all, the film finds a way to imbue its larger-than-life characters—one of whom, unfairly or not, is one of the most reviled in recent history—with a sense of relatable humanity. Yes, it’s selfishness and an insecure thirst for respect that drives both men, but really, what’s more human than that?
Rating: Four of Five Stars