Published Nov 13, 2008In 1977, a superficial British talk show host landed the interview coup of the decade a serious, long-form sit-down with disgraced U.S. President Richard Nixon. David Frost wanted the credibility boost such a "get would bring him, while Nixon saw it as an opportunity to repair his forever-tarnished legacy against an intellectual inferior. It resulted, surprisingly, in Nixons only public admission of culpability in the Watergate hotel break-in that destroyed his presidency, and the interview remade Frosts career.
Based on his hit Broadway play, Peter Morgans take on the David and Goliath tale makes for incredibly gripping viewing, especially in the heavyweight acting battles between Frank Langella (who also portrayed Nixon on stage) and Michael Sheen as Frost (whose Tony Blair invigorated The Queen).
About half the film concerns the machinations that led up to the showdown: Frosts attempts to get independent financing (his previous U.S. talk show had been cancelled) and the battles of the research team that surround him (including Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell) against Nixons cronies (Kevin Bacon as his aide and Toby Jones as agent Swifty Lazar).
Having agreed to pay Nixon an absurd sum for the interview and having given concessions, including only 25 percent of interview time dedicated to Watergate, the odds were stacked against Frost and he was a target of derisive whisperings of chequebook journalism and a lack of credibility.
Its when the film moves to the interviews that audience sit forward in their seats. Langella in particular is absolutely gripping as Nixon (despite a distinct lack of physical resemblance), and by the time the film climaxes in Nixons close-up confession, its hard not to feel some sympathy for the most vilified American political figure of the 20th century.
Underpinned by subtle commentary on the creation of modern media (Frost is distinctly "TV, while Nixon belongs to an older generation), Frost/Nixon captures not just the trapping of an elusive political animal but the social transformation that has occurred in American politics. (Universal)