May 24, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 08 January 2009 13:06
Film theaters have recently shown offerings that may contend for 2008 honors. This week, The Reel Dad visits the new film, Frost/Nixon.
For many young people, the name Richard Nixon doesn’t mean very much. In this time when politicians frequently disappoint, his acts of political misjudgment seem almost commonplace. And in our 24/7 media world, his not-made-for-television personality would never satisfy the frenzied hunger for the celebrity sound bite. He was, and remains, too large for the home screen.
But Nixon fits just fine on the big screen. And, in the richly satisfying Frost/Nixon¸ the opinions, demons and lasting ambitions of the banished president create excellent movie entertainment. This absorbing adaptation of the Broadway play accomplishes what most cinema recreations of stage attractions merely attempt — veteran director Ron Howard effectively rethinks the material for the screen and, in turn, creates one of the year’s most accomplished films. By focusing on the characters, and how they connect, the director brings an important chapter in history to life.
On stage, Frost/Nixon focused on the play-by-play between the 37th President — some two years after he left office — and a successful television personality with little credibility as a serious journalist. TV star David Frost stunned the media world when he convinced Nixon to sit for an exclusive series of interviews. But the ex-president believed that he could use the exposure to rehabilitate his image.
Frost was considered too superficial to accomplish very much; Nixon was thought too controversial to reveal very much; the film shows what a great pair they made. Nothing in Frost’s broadcast history indicated any ability to pierce beneath the politician’s well-rehearsed veneer.
But as the real-life Frost demonstrated in the seventies, and actor Michael Sheen brilliantly recreates on screen, the host had more chutzpah than anyone suspected. Sheen perfectly captures Frost’s engaging personality, dry sense of humor and shallow curiosity. He convinces us that Frost’s transformation — before the crucial, final interview with Nixon about Watergate — is real, not merely the function of an instinct for controversy.
Sheen is matched every step by Frank Langella in a strong recreation of his award-winning stage performance. The Tony Award-winning actor never resorts to caricature in a deeply layered portrayal and even manages to create a sense of empathy for the banished leader. Unlike Anthony Hopkins in Oliver Stone’s over-the-top biopic, Nixon, Langella wisely insists on making Nixon a man, not a symbol. And the actor’s humanity makes the character far more interesting than anyone might expect.
It’s the vision of director Howard — supported by screenwriter Peter Morgan — that makes the film work. Never do we feel, as in the film adaptation of Doubt, that we are watching a movie version of a play. From the start, Howard gives the film a visual drive that may surprise those who follow his work. The film has, in fact, an energy and rhythm that he rarely displays.
Regardless of how little or much a viewer may know about Nixon, the film’s strong sense of narrative makes this a very worthwhile history lesson. Films like Frost/Nixon are very important to bring history alive to young people. They may also have a good time at the movies.
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