"Frost/Nixon is a riveting historical drama, based on the play by Peter Morgan. Morgan wrote the movie's screenplay, as well as screenplays for "The Queen," and "The Last King of Scotland." The controversial 1977 Frost/Nixon interviews are dramatized here, and Frank Langella's superb performance as the disgraced former president, Richard M. Nixon, is worth the price of a movie rental alone.
Richard Nixon resigned from the office of the presidency on August 9, 1974, rather than face impeachment by Congress for his role in the Watergate scandal, and subsequent events. He was the only US president ever to do so. The film shows real footage of the Nixon family, leaving the White House and boarding a helicopter - the first step in a journey which will take Mr. Nixon into exile.
David Frost, (Michael Sheen), a British celebrity talk show host, watches this event on television and decides that an interview with Nixon would be just the thing to relaunch his waning career. He pursues the project for some time and winds up financing it out of his own pocket, while searching desperately for backers. Creepy literary agent Irving "Swifty" Lazar, (Toby Jones), negotiates the deal. Nixon agrees to do more than 20 hours of on-camera interviews with Frost, and will receive $1 million or more in fees and profits for the sessions. He is in serious debt. He has huge legal bills and back taxes to pay and needs the money. Under the terms of the contract, Nixon will have no control over content of questions or editing, and will not see any of the questions in advance. Of course, he can always refuse to answer questions, but he will have to do so in front of a huge audience.
Frost is a most incongruous choice for interviewer, as he has no journalistic experience and is known for being an entertainer and playboy. Yet he manages to upstage major TV networks with their top-notch interviewers, like Mike Wallace, Walter Cronkite, and David Brinkley, and get the gig. Nixon, after almost three years of silence, out of the public eye at his home in California, looks to the series of interviews as an opportunity to vindicate himself and resurrect his very tarnished image. He believes that Frost, a lightweight, will not ask the tough questions, and allow him to forward his own version of his time in office and Watergate.
Frost brings British John Birt, (Matthew Macfadyen), with him to California, to direct the production. They hire radical researcher James Reston, Jr., (Sam Rockwell), who wants Frost to play hardball and try Nixon in the public eye. TV producer Bob Zelnick, (Oliver Platt), signs onto the project also. Caroline Cushing, (Rebecca Hall), Frost's gorgeous girlfriend, accompanies the team. Nixon takes note of her beauty on several occasions. He rattles Frost, before the beginning of one session, by asking if "he had done any fornicating" the night before. I have never known anyone else who is capable of using such terrible language, frequently, and remain in a formal stance while doing so. However you look at him, RMN is a very formal man...he never looks relaxed - in real life or as played by Mr. Langella.
Nixon has his own team. US Marine officer Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon), a Vietnam veteran, is Nixon's most loyal fan, and Diane Sawyer, (Kate Jennings Grant), is a consultant and assistant. Nixon tells Frost at the get-go, "I shall be your fiercest adversary. I shall come at you with everything I've got. Because the limelight can only shine on one of us."
Ultimately, forty-four million viewers turned-out to watch Richard Nixon go head-to-head with David Frost, about a third of the U.S. viewing public at the time. Director Ron Howard brings the tension and drama of this event to the screen...and then some. He focuses more on the psychological aspects of the characters rather than on the politics involved - to great effect. Howard explores each man's insecurities and the enormity of their egos. He really captures the intensity of the interview sessions, including shots of Nixon mopping perspiration from his upper lip with a handkerchief.
I was somewhat disturbed by one scene, a contrived midnight telephone call that Nixon, who had been drinking, makes to Frost. As so much of this film is accurate, or mostly accurate, the insert of a purely fictional event, is powerful but misleading. Mr. Howard took dramatic license too far in this instance.
Again, Mr. Langella's portrayal of Richard Nixon is stellar. Two monologues, in particular, stand out as exceptional. The final interview scenes, with close-ups of Mr. Nixon's/Langella's face, of his thoughtful, almost poignant expressions are phenomenal as he admits that he, "let the American people down."
This is a film which brings much depth to the event which it portrays, and to the characters involved. As a baby boomer, who clearly remembers Watergate, and the events surrounding it, I was riveted to the screen. Highly recommended.