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NIXON/FROST is the movie based on the stage play based on the television show. It features a brilliant script by Peter Morgan (who also wrote THE QUEEN – he’s your go-to-guy for names-in-the-news biopics), and was slickly directed by Ron Howard.
People who saw the play said it was even better but they could just be showing off because they saw the play. The movie was damn good and moved along at a brisk pace. I was curious to see just what perspective the movie added to the subject matter ‘cause face it, if it’s just two talking heads on camera you can go to YouTube and see the original. What Morgan and Opie did was very smart. They showed you another side of Nixon. (And he had many faces to choose from.) Who knew that he was really savvy and intelligent in addition to being corrupt, paranoid, cheap, and in most ways despicable?
I’m sure the filmmakers’ big question was whether the audience would remotely give a shit whether British gabmeister, David Frost pulled this off? I must say I didn’t care like I did in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE when I wanted to jump through the screen and help the hero myself, but I did find myself vested in Frost’s predicament. And he had some tougher challenges than Jamal in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. Sure Jamal had to flee the evil orphanage that wanted to blind him but he never had to pitch a show to ABC.
The thing that shines more than anything else in this movie is the acting. Michael Sheen has made a nice career for himself playing famous English characters in Peter Morgan plays. First he was Tony Blair in THE QUEEN and now David Frost. I look forward to his portrayal someday of boxer Lennox Lewis. In the interest of accuracy Sheen could have played Frost taller but I’m just quibbling.
And Frank Langella as Tricky Dick was nothing short of extraordinary. He took a two-dimensional caricature in real life and made him three-dimensional on the flat screen. He captured Nixon’s goofy physical mannerisms, the voice inflections, and facial expressions. Watching Nixon walk -- all hunched over with his arms at his sides – he always reminded me of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon character. That’s the way Yogi Bear and Boo Boo used to walk. Much of the film is in close up and the subtlety and nuance that Langella displayed was remarkable.
Just how crucial was Langella’s contribution. Picture the same movie with Dan Ackyrod playing Nixon.
I had only one problem with this movie. If it had been released ten years ago it would have had a thousand times the impact it does today. What seemed so shocking, so unthinkable back then – a United States president lying to the American people and covering up a botched break-in – is nothing in comparison to what Bush, Cheney, Rove, & Co. have done. Nixon shoplifted a Snickers bar compared to these Visigoths. And at least Nixon was tortured by his actions for the rest of his life. When George Bush has his comparable interview in a few years with Tyra Banks I’m sure there will be no such remorse. He may have destroyed the country and the world but at least he spared Vegas.