Frost/Nixon is cracking film! Based on the stage-play of the same name, the film centres on David Frost's series of interviews with the fallen US President, Richard Nixon.
As the series went into filming, Nixon was scheming his rehabilitation into public life and believed that Frost as a mere "chat-show host" would be easy to manipulate for this end. Frost's reputation too was in poor-shape, his TV show had been cancelled and he had great difficulty funding the Nixon interviews. Both men therefore came to the interviews with their whole professional lives on the line - into a gladiatorial debate.
The behind-the-scenes machinations in both camps are brilliantly executed in Ron Howard's film - both in the scenes of the aides and researchers hard at work; but also in the little straight-to-camera interviews that various characters give at the beginning and end of the film. The tension that the film manages to gather as the narrative moves towards the inevitable final interview on Watergate is wonderful, gripping, compelling and thoroughly enjoyable.
Along with the really excellent construction of the film, the whole thing works so well because the two lead characters are played with real style. Michael Sheen's depiction of David Frost is so well done that the viewer is compelled to share the frustrations of his research team! Sheen doesn't do a full impression of Frost - but yet (as he has done in other films) made significant concessions towards the looks and vocal style of his subject. If Sheen's Frost is tends towards flippancy, over-confidence, and 'showbiz'; Frank Langella plays Nixon with a brooding intensity and gravity which is terrific. I had expected the film to present Frost as a swashbuckling hero; and Nixon as a one-dimensional villain. The reality was more nuanced than this though - and in a world of films packed full of unconvincing one-dimensional caricatures, is refreshing. Frost, doesn't apply himself adequately to the research until the last minute and is cocky; while Nixon is portrayed not as a demonic force so much as broken man, a great but spent force, a man who once held power but is left with little more than regrets. Interestingly then, the 'hero' who fights for the right side, is perhaps presented in less favourable a light than the villain.
As countless critics have said, the film does use creative license on several key points. In order to present Frost as a womaniser he picks Caroline Cushing up on the plane to the States to film the interviews - whereas they had been a couple for many years at this point. More importantly, the late-night phone call between the protagonists on which the film turns was apparently entirely made up. Nevertheless, the film superbly captures the moment, the times, the personalities and the importance of the interviews which were the closest thing that Nixon ever had to a trial, and the occasion of his only confession. Top-notch informative entertainment.