A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 22 – Frost/Nixon

Frost/Nixon – March 22, 2010

Tonight’s movie is Frost/Nixon. Far more serious fare than most of what we’ve done so far. See? We do own more than comedies and scifi/fantasy action. Okay, so most of what we own is action/adventurey, but we do have some things like this. But we might not have bought this if we hadn’t seen the play on stage in Boston with my parents. We watched the play and we loved it. I did a lot of theater in high school and saw a decent amount of stage productions, so when I watch something on stage now I watch it with an eye not just to the performances but to the production as a whole. And I’ve got to say, Frost/Nixon was a fantastic production. It was so pared down, so focused, it was amazing. Yes, it placed the interviews that are the point of the movie in historical context, but the entire point of the show was to watch David Frost and Richard Nixon talking, sparring, prodding at each other. And there were a couple of fantastic performances. Stacy Keach as Nixon, specifically, made me almost feel bad for Nixon. Almost.

Anyhow, we loved the play and when the movie came out on DVD we went ahead and bought it, thinking it would be interesting to see how the movie presented it and the differences between the stage and the screen. What I found was that while I really enjoy the movie, I liked the focus of the show on stage. The intense lighting, the spare set, the small cast, it all served to make you pay attention to very specific things. I liked that.

Now, that being said? I think the movie is excellent. The atmosphere is fantastic and the acting is superb. And the story and writing do what they do in the play: They take an event from history, one which we know the outcome of already, and present it in such a way that there is tension about how it’s going to play out. It’s a matter of record that eventually Frost managed to get something out of Nixon that no one had really managed to get. But the script displays it as so far from a sure thing and the acting backs that up. The fear being shown that Frost and his people had not just lost control of the interviews, but that they’d never had it in the first place. The desperation of Frost’s team to get Nixon, not just because they had a hell of a lot of money riding on it but because for some of them it was a long-term goal. Reston’s flat out stated as being passionate about it. Frost’s whole team does an excellent job at showing just how freaked they are and the wide variety of reasons why. Meanwhile, Langella, as Nixon, does an amazing job portraying a man who’s done horrible things and justified them in his own mind. An intelligent man who’s not about to let go of control easily.

An aside about Nixon: Up until Frost/Nixon, my best pop culture reference to Nixon was Billy West’s Nixon-head in Futurama. Which means that no matter how good Keach was on stage or Langella is on screen, I still expect Billy West’s version every so often. “I’ll sneak into people’s houses and mess up the place! A-roooo!”

Back to the movie. It’s tense. It’s very tense. There are some truly heavy moments, but then every so often a bit or two of humor. Oddly enough, it’s often Nixon saying something amusing (the “Do any fornicating?” line, for example), which I’m sure was intentional. As I said above, by the end of the play I almost felt bad for Nixon. While Langella evokes a similar emotion in the movie, for me its impact is a little lessened because I’d seen such an amazing performance on stage. The final scenes, watching Frost just sit back, knowing he’s delivered a blow Nixon wasn’t prepared for, and Nixon speaking seriously about things he’d never intended to speak about, it’s an amazing piece of film. It’s an amazing piece of film about an amazing piece of film.

I can’t recommend this movie enough. It’s not light fare. It’s got light moments, but it’s not light. It’s fantastic. The only criticism I have is that it’s not the play.

March 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Frost/Nixon

March 22, 2010

Frost/Nixon

This is a very interesting movie.  As my wife is probably pointing out in her review we actually saw the stage show before we saw the film.  The version we saw was a traveling company headlining Stacy Keach as Richard Nixon.  It was a powerful and moving performance.  Here we have the original stage cast: Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as David Frost reprising their roles for the big screen.  I do constantly find myself comparing Langella to Keach, since Stacy Keach was my first exposure to this version of Nixon.  I’d say Langella’s Nixon is more soulful, and Keach’s was more passionate.  The stage play was a very sparse thing.  It had barely any set, just some chairs and a deceptively simple backdrop, using lighting and slides to create an environment.  It’s a play that is simply about this confrontation between these two people from completely different worlds.  David Frost and his jet set ways and Nixon – here portrayed as a man sadly obsessed with his lost power and his shattered reputation.

In the commentary track (or perhaps it’s some of the making-of featurettes on the DVD) the writer, Peter Morgan, describes Frost/Nixon as Rocky: the political debate.  It’s all about sparring and jousting.  The Nixon character describes it as a duel.  The movie is put forth as a period piece.  Ron Howard has re-created the seventies in lush detail, but in service of this simple interview.  As the actual interview goes on the lighting on the two men in the foreground, the harsh glare of the television lights, pulls them out of the scene.  It’s more like the stage play.  Just these two men.

It’s a great story and a great movie.  Ron Howard directs with a deft and simple hand, letting the performers and the script shine.  And shine they do.  Frank Langella is all bluster and power as Nixon, Michael Sheen is wonderfully engaging as Frost, so clearly out of his element and in over his head.  And the script really is the greatest star.  Peter Morgan makes Nixon into a very human, and even humorous character.  Nixon gets all the best lines, really.. the whole movie revolves around him, and the climactic last round of his boxing match with Frost hinges on him having a believable human soul.

I’m enjoying watching this again… and hope to have a reason to watch it more in the future.

I also feel I should go buy a copy of Good Night and Good Luck as a companion piece.

March 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment