Drama, History, 122 minutes
Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Frank Langella, Michael Sheen and Rebecca Hall
Like Doubt, Frost/Nixon covers subject matter that would generally bore me, but the story is so strong that it's capable of seizing my attention and holding it for two hours.
I remember David Frost interviewing Richard Nixon when I was in my teens, and wasn't remotely interested. I grew up in England and so have no personal connection to the events surrounding Nixon's term as president.
So why do I have any interest at all in this film?
It's a combination of the script and the acting. Nixon (Langella) and Frost (Sheen) are portrayed perfectly. The supporting cast is also strong and includes Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt and Toby Jones. The people making up Frost's research team clearly have something invested in the project. Like many of the American people, they are angry that Nixon was granted a pardon by President Ford. They want some kind of admission or guilt and an apology in order to achieve closure.
Frost doesn't care about any of that. He's a playboy and a TV celebrity. He wants to further his career, become famous in America, and make a ton of money at the same time. He manages to convince Nixon to do an interview for his show and sets about soliciting companies and friends to provide the financial backing. But he's really more interested in spending time with his girlfriend (Hall) and experiencing the nightlife.
Frost's next task is to convince his potential team members that he's truly motivated to give Nixon a hard time during the interviews. Once that's done, a contract is drawn up. Nixon stipulates that only one interview out of the four will be permitted to mention the Watergate scandal.
During the first interview, Frost discovers what he's in for. Nixon is experienced at handling the media and gives long meandering answers that say very little. He completely dominates the interview. The remainder of the film shows Frost trying to up his game. One event in particular convinces him to treat the interviews seriously and he eventually throws himself into the task of uncovering new evidence.
The first 90 minutes is used to set up the confrontation between the two in the final interview. It's so well handled that the showdown becomes gripping entertainment. As I mentioned, I have no personal connection to these events, but Ron Howard's direction makes me care. I find myself rooting for Frost in the hope that he could force Nixon into an admission that would help the American people achieve some kind of closure. The dialogue and acting in the final part of the film is explosive and some of the best I have ever witnessed.