January 28, 2009 by Zack
There is no doubt in my mind that Nixon is in the top three of worst presidents of all time. And yet, he is one of the most fascinating people to learn about. He was an incredibly brilliant man, who unfortunately was so consumed with paranoia, self-loathing and contempt for all human kind, that squandered his greatest potential as a leader, and as a man.
“Frost/Nixon” exposes all of these traits of Nixon, yet exposes very little about David Frost, the British “talk show host” who practically gives up everything to do what he thinks will bring in the most ratings of all time on television. No network believes him, and he basically raises the money himself, along with the help of a couple of low-rent investors and sponsors. Along the way, David meets a great girl, and buddies up with Richard Nixon in order to set the temperature right, and make Nixon feel comfortable talking to him.
The film, like the play its based on, does take some liberties which are used for dramatic and thematic effect. I can forgive that, since it works in with the theme of the film, but if you think that Frost and Nixon shared a telephone conversation one night about cheeseburgers and Nixon moaning about life, you would be incorrect. It never happened, and director Ron Howard blatantly admits it. It was a device. And it works in the sense that there is something about Nixon that the film tells us, and that we need to know: he was still a human being, even if what he did was so soulless.
The film’s best scenes are the interview scenes. In a way the film reminds me of a “Rocky” movie. Everything is a backdrop to the “main event”, and that’s really where the film rises up from being shallow melodrama to knock-down drag-out drama. Kevin Bacon’s character, Jack Brennan, even relates the first interview in which Nixon dominates the entire reel, to that of a heavyweight boxer whom after weeks of hype and work outs, just bludgeons the competition with one hit to the face. The first three interviews, Nixon is Drago. In the climactic one, David Frost becomes Rocky. Ron Howard did actually admit to this story being told in the vein of a boxing match. I mean, even the title is reminiscent of a headlining boxing promotion.
The story, though, isn’t really about Frost, and I think the film is smart about that. Frost is the host, he’s not the one we need to know a lot about. There are some scenes where Frost is hard at work, and you may pity him more than you probably should (Frost wasn’t exactly champion of humanity) but the story is more about Nixon. And the culminating scene in which Nixon has been TKO’d by Frost, there is a look on his face in which Frank Langella just completely steals not the scene itself but the entire movie–his eyes are so magnetic, you can’t look at anything else. All of the pain, anguish, hatred, misery, even *regret*–lies within those eyes.
This film is not great, but it is worth seeing. It has a few flaws, and some of the scenes between Frost and his girl are a bit much, but as I said–Howard gets it right with the interviews, and since this movie is called “Frost/Nixon” after all, that is really why you want to see this movie in the first place. And in that aspect, it delivers completely.