Frost/Nixon

The Nominations:

  • Actor in a Leading Role – Frank Langella
  • Director – Ron Howard
  • Film Editing
  • Motion Picture
  • Adapted Screenplay – Peter Morgan

The Black-and-White:

A review by Moviegirl

I’ve been thinking recently that there are some events that sound like they would be the perfect subject for a play or a movie, but really aren’t. The “making of” David Frost’s interviews with Richard Nixon is one of those events.

Here’s the synopsis from the oscar.com website:

Following his 1974 resignation, Richard Nixon withdraws from public life until talk show host David Frost persuades him–with the help of a sizeable payment–to participate in a series of television interviews. For Frost, the much-anticipated event offers a chance to establish himself as a serious journalist, while the disgraced former president regards the interviews as an opportunity to reestablish himself on the political stage.

It really does sound like it must be a great story — how in the world did a British TV personality manage to convince the former president of the United States to be interviewed? But the answer is pretty obvious: money and a return to the spotlight. The rest of the story (will the project get financed? will Frost ever buckle down and learn the material? will Nixon confess?) seems to suffer from the same lack of dramatic tension that every biopic encounters, since we actually know the outcome.

Is the movie well-made? Undoubtedly. Ron Howard as usual populates his cast and crew with professionals and the film has an air of gravitas that made it a shoo-in for a Best Picture nomination as well as the Directing nod that generally accompanies it. Also, Frank Langella is outstanding as Nixon, and plays the former president without irony or caricature.

But Peter Morgan’s adaption of his play ultimately lacks fire. Many of the characters lack definition and don’t seem to move the story forward (in particular, the character of Frost’s girlfriend Caroline Cushing, who doesn’t seem to have any point other than to provide a little eye-candy as the only female character with more than one line of dialogue). In addition, his attempt to create tension by implying that Frost was completely outclassed by Nixon until the last interview falls flat, both because it is such an overdone device and because the portrayal of the interviews as completely one-sided is historically inaccurate.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in the movie, though, is the 122 minute length, for which I blame both to Morgan’s meandering script as well as the inexplicably-nominated film editing. Perhaps the editing nod was for some of the tricky transitions between the “interviews” and the “real-life” moments, or perhaps it was for the integration of the archival footage. But overall, the film could have been much tighter and much shorter.

Really what I’m trying to say is that this story just doesn’t have enough meat to be a full-length feature. But it would make a great trailer.

ETA: I’ve actually figured out why the screenplay felt so predictable and cliche. It’s because it’s basically A Few Good Men. Sure it’s a different set up, but the story has all the same major plot points and devices and beats, right down to eliciting a version of “you can’t handle the truth” out of the commander in chief. Not to mention Kevin Bacon in uniform!

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