Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Review: "Frost/Nixon" Grade: A-

Frost/Nixon, the 2008 film based on the play by Peter Morgan, adapted by Morgan himself and directed by Ron Howard gets better the more I think about it. The film and play is an interpretation by Morgan of how the Frost interviews came about and of all the people involved. Nixon just wants to make some money and thinks that Frost is an easy interview to get around since his niche is being an entertainer and not a serious interviewer. Frost is simply looking for a way to boost his career and this seems to be the way to do it. He spends all of his money paying for the interview and Frost and his team (Sam Rockwell, Matthew MacFadyen and Oliver Platt) are helping him research and come up with interview questions and strategies. Frost brushes all of this off though as he is not taking the interviews as seriously as he should.
I am trying to write better reviews by doing them the way they are normally done but I am finding it so much harder than I thought it was so please cut me some slack over the awfulness and inaccuracies of that horribly misleading summary.

Basically a lot of this is standard stuff; a character not being very involved in something but in one moment begins to care and steps up to the plate just in time. The character who thinks he has everything under control but in the end is defeated. The fictionalization of an event giving more weight to a relationship than there probably was. It is all there. However it is done with such precision, such refreshing effect and with such great talent and source material involved that right now it is near the top of my films of 2008 and as I see many many more I do not expect it to change its position all that much. While not the masterpiece that “The Queen” is (also written by Peter Morgan), this is an extremely effective look into a time and into two individuals that crossed paths and changed each other’s lives.

Ron Howard needed a win. I like Ron Howard’s work or at least much of it. “Parenthood” is one of my favorite movies; it strikes the perfect balance of sentimentality and relevance. The best of his work does that. After “The Grinch” and “The DaVinci Code” and also resentment over the ridiculous over praise of “A Beautiful Mind” it was time that he made a strong return to form in the way of “Apollo 13”. Here he makes several key decisions that retain the power of the play. One is that he uses no score throughout the actual interviews which is so important to the impact of the film. He keeps the focus on the actors and the dialogue. He also racks the focus during many shots to the point where it becomes the stylistic motif of the film along with some very nice and subtle handheld work. The decision to keep both Michael Sheen and Frank Langella is essential to this film working. Otherwise it simply would have become a showcase for two actors who are not as well suited for the roles. I know that this is a film that was being geared towards the Oscars the moment is hit pre-production and it is primed to garner some resentment from those who think it is underrated but for me this truly was one of the best films I have seen in a while.

Frank Langella knocks it out of the park in the role that won him a Tony. He commands his scenes and brings a humanistic side to Nixon that does not by any means excuse his actions but simply develops him as a character, not necessarily as the real person. By the end he brought tears to my eyes. Michael Sheen however is just as good and really is the one in the end that the movie rests on because he has the most screen time even though for some strange reason he is in Best Supporting Actor. Sheen has the less showy role but brings just as much impact and relevance to David Frost as Frank Langella does to Richard Nixon. Seeing these two act together on screen is an absolute treat and worth seeing it for this reason alone. I have a crush on Michael Sheen by the way. I think he’s a dreamboat.

The rest of the cast is fantastic. I always love seeing Sam Rockwell since he is one of my favorite actors. Even though the importance of Reston is cut down considerably I still feel he was given a decent amount to do here. All of the scenes with him playing Reston, Oliver Platt and Matthew McFayden are so entertaining. Kevin Bacon does some great understated work and Rebecca Hall as I have said since “The Prestige” is one of my favorite actresses even if she has little to do here outside of being the girl.

My complaint about the film is how they adapted the narration that broke the fourth wall in the play. I feel like the easy way out was taken by making it mockumentary footage. It becomes distracting at parts and feels out of place. There were more effective ways to do this I feel. Instead of making me more involve with the movie it did the opposite and made me very much aware I was watching fiction instead of pulling me in. However it did not distract me as much as I thought it would in places and was not in a ton of the film. It was good that only the supporting characters contributed to this footage and there were a couple of moments when I was actually very glad we had the footage because it actually enhanced the moment. Overall though I felt it was a detrimental decision.

Overall though this is one of the strongest films I have seen in a long time. Filled with suspense and in the edge of your seat moments coming from an interview and not action scenes and two enriched character studies about two very interesting individuals and really really standout performances with assured direction from Ron Howard, “Frost/Nixon” is one of the best films of the year.

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