Frost/Nixon Movie Review

Posted on 20. Dec, 2008 by in Film/TV


by Todd Gilchrist

With or without art to inspire or imitate it, life is full of drama. Even in the mundane routine of our daily lives, there are countless challenges, failures, and triumphs that stir emotions and reveal truths. Of course, those aren’t necessarily the most interesting stories to tell, which is why moviemakers often heighten the circumstances of so-called “true stories” or even manufacture new ones in the service of creating compelling entertainment. Director Ron Howard’s new film purports to chronicle the 1977 encounter between British pundit David Frost and ex-president Richard Nixon – a historic moment which not only exposed Nixon’s feelings about the Watergate scandal but forever changed the nature of celebrity interviews. Unfortunately, Frost / Nixon fails to satisfactorily explore its real-life subject matter because it substitutes the more conventional dramatic arc of a three-act storytelling structure for the eminently more powerful weight and intensity of what actually happened. 

  Actors Michael Sheen and Frank Langella reprise the roles they played on stage as (respectively) Frost and Nixon, the former a frivolous talk-show host who unceremoniously decides that Nixon will be his next interview. As promising as the opportunity sounds, however, its success will require both an eager audience and Nixon’s permission, neither of which are readily available. Thankfully, Frost’s dubious reputation as a journalist reassures Nixon that the interview will be little more than a puff piece, even as Frost hires a staff of researchers to pore over his presidency with a fine-toothed comb. But as the interview segments get underway, Frost and Nixon find themselves in an escalating battle of wills as the former president tries to restore his tarnished image while Frost becomes determined to prove that he’s more than just a celebrity-obsessed showman.

Howard’s lack of discernible style seems particularly well-suited to the subject matter’s relatively minimal details, and writer Peter Morgan has proven himself an able deconstructionist of historical events, at least evidenced by his terrific work on The Queen. But both storytellers shoe-horn the potential dramatic weight of the actual events into the motions of a three-act “plot” in which Nixon is Big Game and Frost an inexperienced hunter; some or all of which may be true but none of it enhances what is otherwise a powerful parable about journalistic vigilance and especially political accountability. As a movie, the end result is a compelling account of real events, but it does not carry the outrage Americans felt over Nixon’s betrayal, and almost none of the sense of catharsis that came from his long-awaited admission of guilt. While the parallels to contemporary politics are palpable, Frost / Nixon ultimately feels a part of a bygone era, albeit cinematically rather than historically – all of which is why ultimately as a document of real life, the film is at best a
pretty good work of art.

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One Response to “Frost/Nixon Movie Review”

  1. femovogue

    14. Aug, 2009

    Really good post

    Reply to this comment

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