Friday, February 20, 2009

Film: "Frost/Nixon"

Director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind) has outdone himself with Frost/Nixon, screenplay by Peter Morgan (The Queen) based on his play, creating (despite that the historically-informed audience already knows the outcome and precursors!) a surprisingly suspenseful and completely gripping docudrama on a particular event in history: the Frost-Nixon interviews of 1977. Frank Langella as former President Nixon, like Jamie Fox (Ray, 2004) before him, adeptly channels a real-life figure. While Frost/Nixon does not fully capture, and was not meant to, the outrage of anti-war, anti-Nixon sentiment of the times, [I recall The Politics of Lying by David Wise,1973] -- despite the presence of journalists James Reston, Jr (Sam Rockwell), a rabid anti-Nixon, and Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt), both hired to help David Frost (Michael Sheen-The Queen) prepare for the interviews, -- I was still surprised to find myself feeling any compassion at all for Langella’s Nixon. Langella, like Winslet in The Reader, so humanizes the villain that I found myself feeling bad for feeling bad for the bad guy.

Perhaps like a doomed couple, Frost and Nixon are drawn together, each attracted to the other for what the one is not, and beneath the other is the discomforting familiarity of the underdog, 'kicked around' by 'the snobs.' I thought of the couple of biopics nominated this year: Frost/Nixon and Milk, both nominated for Best Picture, Male Actor, Director. But the two films seemed to be emotional inverts: ever present beneath the humor of Milk’s quips was the gravitas of civil and human rights violations; whereas in Frost/Nixon, the gravity of the dishonor Nixon brought to the presidency (and the memory of Viet Nam and, especially, Cambodia) skated clearly on the surface, and beneath these were the smiles, nay, smirks and incredulity, recalling the Nixon of my youth as the dangerous buffoon, devoid of pathos. And then here comes Langella, stirring unwilling compassion for the man Nixon. On that alone he might deserve Best Male Actor. I recommend this movie to all, no matter what your politics.

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