Rating: 3.5 stars
It’s hard to convince people that Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon, a fictionalized account the historic interview between British chat show host David Frost and disgraced American president Richard Nixon, is as edge-of-your-seat riveting as any good sports movie. But it is. Of course, the dry title doesn’t help. Maybe, Smackdown! Frost/Nixon would’ve been better.
The beauty of the film, based on the Peter Morgan play of the same name, is that Frost (Michael Sheen)—who had some minor success in the United States but was ultimately sent back to the UK with his tail between his legs—sees his exclusive interview with Nixon as a way to get back his table at Sardi’s. He craves fame, status, a kind of professional redemption. He has no idea that he’s out of his depth—his obsession is scoring the interview, not actually conducting it.
As for Nixon (Frank Langella), well, we already know what he’s like—brilliant, twitchy, paranoid, and self-pitying. But his loyal right-hand man Colonel Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon) convinces him to take the interview, not just because Frost is paying more than anyone else (Frost naively assumes the financing will come later) but because he believes Frost to be a lightweight.
“He’s not in your intellectual class, sir,” Brennan says.
And so the men circle each other, make arrangements—Toby Jones has an amusing turn as über-agent Swifty Lazar, who brokers the interview on Nixon’s behalf—and finally agree to sit down for five one-hour taped segments.
Meanwhile, Frost has assembled a crack crew of his own that includes producer John Birt (Matthew Macfadyen), editor Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt), and Nixon scholar James Reston Jr. (Sam Rockwell).
Tension grows as it becomes clear that Frost can’t raise the promised money (as the money dries up, he begins to sweat like Nixon) and as his staff becomes increasingly skeptical of his interviewing abilities (essentially, they need Edward R. Murrow and they’re getting Regis Philbin). Meanwhile, Nixon relishes the chance to preserve his legacy and set the record straight.
Both Frost and Nixon have something to prove. Who will prevail? As they say in sports movies, let’s get ready to rumble.
For the complete review, check out the January issue of Baltimore.