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Frost Nixon review

For three years after being forced from office, Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) remains silent. But in summer 1977, the steely, cunning former commander-in-chief agrees to a series of interviews -at a price - with David Frost (Michael Sheen) intending to easily outfox the breezy British showman and secure a better place in the hearts and minds of Americans. Likewise, Frost's team harbours doubts about their boss' ability to hold his own. But as the cameras roll, a charged battle of wits ensues.

Don't be surprised if David Frost fails to gush at Ron Howard's dramatised documentary about his milestone interview with Richard Nixon. This is no Frost fan film, and the celebrated talk show host is portrayed as rather ineffective for most of the film. Indeed, even when he scores the much sought after confession from Nixon about his moral failure as President, it is to some extent thanks to Nixon himself, who spurs him on with a challenge.

But the film's appeal goes, and begins, well before and beyond the re-enactment of those interview sessions, to the birth of the idea (credited to Frost), the lengthy and conflicted preparations with Frost's team, and the Nixon team's strategies. Ron Howard has turned the story into a psychological thriller, with the ballast of character study, with Peter Morgan's screenplay offering pathos and tragedy amidst the mechanics of a giant political interview, magnified by the close up that ironically reduces the dramatic contest to basic human elements. Frost and Nixon are at once enlarged by the lens and their stature lessened by the inspection. As Oscar Wilde said, truth is rarely pure and never simple - even if Peter Morgan's version of the truth is just that: his (well researched) version.

There are plenty of memory jogging insights into the momentous times in the mid 70s when the Watergate scandal was the daily political news diet of not just America but the world. Peter Morgan's script cuts through to the intense personal as well as political aspects, always in touch with the main characters who acted out this later part of the drama.

Nixon (Frank Langella) is presented as a complex, self analytical manipulator who finally says the words the American public have wanted to hear. Both Langella and Sheen deliver striking portrayals that avoid superficial mimicry for something more satisfying. The supporting cast are all superb, too, with Kevin Bacon a standout as Nixon's protective lieutenant, Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell as Frost's researchers desperate to see Nixon nailed, Toby Jones as Nixon's self-important literary agent and Rebecca Hall as Caroline, Frost's girlfriend.

Frost/Nixon will no doubt send many of us into research mode to review the historical context of these historic interview sessions.
Review by Andrew L. Urban

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