Every well-made film that connects always does two things. It tells a compelling story and delivers a basic this-is-how-life-is theme that any moviegoer over the age of 10 can make sense of and recognize as truthful. I’m saying this because as much as I liked Ron Howard ‘s Frost/Nixon after seeing it a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t quite put my finger on the theme until now. This was due to laziness or a form of temporary blockage on my part. Because it’s as obvious as the ski-nose on Richard Nixon‘s face.
Peter Morgan‘s screenplay, based on his stage play, is about a contest of wills and wits between British TV personality David Frost (Michael Sheen) and resigned U.S. president Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) over the course of a four-part televised interview that was taped in 1977. Some have wondered if under-30s will appreciate the historically dramatic importance of the interview or feel the anti-Nixon rooting interest to any degree. I don’t think you need to have lived through the Nixon years to enjoy the Frost/Nixon tension. I feel that Howard’s disciplined hand allows the story to work on its own terms.
The under-theme, for me, comes at the climax when Nixon admits to grave error in his handling of the Watergate crisis, saying he “let the American people down,” etc. But only after a good amount of dodging, tap-dancing, posturing, smoke-blowing, side-stepping and plain old evasion. Which is how most of us, I think, come to the truth about ourselves. We never admit to it early on, always looking to put off the moment of reckoning. Frost/Nixon is a metaphor for this process, for the path that we all travel on the way to facing facts about who we are and what we’ve done.
“I was down with Frost/Nixon from start to finish,” I wrote on 10.28. “It’s very well done, very full and expert for what it is. It’s more satisfying, more underlined (but in a subtle way) and more clearly wrought than the play, frankly. It’s not Kubrick, Bresson, Kazan, Eisenstein, Welles, the Coen brothers or Lubitsch. It is what it is, and that’s in no way a problem. And it significantly improves upon what it was on the New York stage.
“And Frank Langella’s performance as Nixon is naturally and necessarily more toned down than it was on-stage, and that makes it a fascinating, moving (as in genuinely sad), award-level effort.”