Saturday, December 6, 2008

Go See Frost/Nixon....for the last 30 Minutes.

There have been a lot of glowing reviews of Frost/Nixon

So there the are above, the real deal Tricky Dick and the movie version. You can judge the veracity for yourself. If I had to sum up my thoughts I'd say Frost/Nixon is an average Little Guy vs the Machine / Hollywood period piece. But in the final half hour the movie delivers what you came for with a riveting clash of titans. Two egos, both putting everything on the line. Both desperate to come out on top.

Peter Morgan who gave us the movie The Queen wrote the play and screenplay. So you expect this to be top rate quality. I guess where I was disappointed is with all the work that comes before the final show down.

Michael Sheen does a fine job playing the TV star Frost. In fact after seeing him do Tony Blair and this...I'm ready for something original. (Oh, look he's playing The Cheshire Cat in Tim Burton's version of Alice in Wonderland.)

But my issue isn't with the actors but rather the arc of the story.

The movie sets the stakes early. Nixon's looking for way back to put Watergate behind him.

Frost just is fascinated by the downfall of the president and sees an opportunity. But he's a fluffy talk show guy. And a Brit. And so we get the real meat of the movie. The scheme.

Frost spends all his time running around raising cash to pay for the Nixon interview and wooing sponsors. In the meantime he's assembled crack team of Nixon-haters to help him crucify the Pres. Sam Rockwell and Oliver Platt play the academic and the journalist. They cram with Frost's producer while Frost jets around getting cash, attending movie openings etc.

So you see where this is going, for the middle of the film, not exactly ground breaking cinema.

And to make things worse Ron Howard, the invisible man of directors if there ever was one, is on autopilot. So we get Class-A Hollywood cliches. The montages of the team training, cramming over books, drinking, laughing and cramming some more.

The Nixon interviews are in segments, spread out over a number of days. The first one is a disaster. And we all know it's going to come down to that one crucial interview. The last shot and the only interview where Watergate was the agreed upon topic.

It's a long road getting to those final fireworks. But is it worth it.
The reason I put the youtube clips up there is to burst another bubble that's being said about Frost/Nixon.

Yes Frank Langella does a fantastic job. But I don't think he nails Nixon. He looks off, his manner a little too easy going. I don't even find the voice that close.
But that's okay. I'm not looking for a photocopy. I want the essence . And what Frank gives us is a sense of the dangerous gravity of someone LIKE Nixon. Frank's character is the smoothest of smooth operators. You get that a sense of the pull, a personality like a tractor beam that all successful politicians have. It's a fantastic turn. Not a perfect imitation, but better in a way because it fleshes out Nixon's faults. Like dissecting and pinning a frog in biology class so we can see it for what it is.

And that applies to those final moments too. Let me say, when Watergate happened I was still in diapers. But of course the first thing I did after seeing the movie was check out the actual Frost/Nixon interview on youtube. At first I was almost disappointed. The real deal seemed flat by comparison.

But again that's the beauty of those final moments on film. Writer Peter Morgan has compressed much, but he also magnifies certain moments. Zooming in on those questions when Nixon's answer, or even his reaction before he answered said so much. There's one moment, where you see Frank Langella go through two maybe three different emotions before he even starts speaking. You wont find them in the actual interviews. But it's a great moment on film.

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