Now those of you that know me, know that if I can say something in a few words rather than many, that’s the course I’ll choose. The irony that I also feel law to be my calling… But these points are redundant as now I’ve to try and effectively pin down what exactly it was about this movie I enjoyed so thoroughly.
As a child I was fixated by these interviews and I partly blame them for my over-active interest in American politics at the expense of our own indigenous variety. Somehow I thought this might hamper my enjoyment of the subject matter but in fact I think it made me understand what I find overall to be irritating with the interviews as a whole, which I’ll come back to.
Being based on the play of the interviews for the big screen (indeed, all they’re missing is some mime or vaudeville transitions) and with Ron Howard who I affectionately consider to take some pleasure in involving a pet/terminal/mental illness/general underdog story somewhere in every one one of his films, this was a project I felt could sink faster than a hooker on a wealthy John.
However, I was quickly placated when it began. The writing and acting is superb considering the script is by and large the original play written by Peter Morgan (The Queen/Last King of Scotland) and the original two players similarly being ported over into their respective roles for the big screen.
I have to give every credit to both Howard and the principal actors because they do everything possible with the subject matter they are given but that is what truly limits this movie in its potential.
No matter how much Langella and Sheen embody their characters (which they do far beyond being mere reproductions of the iconic figures and the ease they have with the dialogue is instantly noticeable) or how much Howard and Morgan try to expand this story beyond the actual interview scenes (which is done brilliantly in parts and horrendously in others), the true fault with this project is ultimately the fact that one of the most skilled and ruthless former presidents in US history was brought down by an entertainer. Despite everything Sheen does to fully take on the role, he still remains to be a character more of gloss than any of the multiple 2-dimensional supporting characters that fill the background in scenes. Perhaps he could have tried harder to establish that Frost was in fact a deeply skilled man but that would in itself be wholly inaccurate. One of the few instances where we get any insight into his character is a qualified aside given by Langella who, with everything he does in this film, simply turns it into another scene stealing moment.
Langella is the true tour de force in this picture and shows greater understanding than Nixon himself in the actual seminal moments of the film. He outplays and outmaneuvers everyone to such a degree that everyone seems shrill and brittle in comparison. As a result, the film’s ending is rather lackluster when he is forced into his respective corner and Frost gets what he needs to get his television numbers.
It might seem odd to think that I liked it at all things considered, the sometimes uneven focus on Nixon and the historical constraints placed upon the cast with the other characters but all things considering, this was a very well made film. Despite its many flaws, it gives us an insight into both characters and both are well played, directed and written. However, the enigma of Nixon and Langella’s performance means that he does not necessarily suffer the same constraints and as such he is truly able to break with conventional opinions on Nixon. And really, it doesn’t seem in the end that Frost is actually limited in the movie but simply not nearly as rich a character of the former president even in reality – he is throughout referred to only as an entertainer, thus making him the gateway for the audience into the mind of Richard M. Nixon.
Thus, the greatest success and failure of this project is that despite all evidence to the contrary, Nixon is finally granted the fallibility of mortals. Sam Rockwell continually states that the interview will be a trial by media and that humanising him will not do anything to cede the anger felt by the American public.
Well too bad Mr. Rockwell, I liked him.
In fact I’d even vote for him.