Frost/Nixon (Blu-ray Review)19 May, 2009 By: John Latchem
Box Office $18.6 million
Rated ‘R’ for some language.
Stars Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, Toby Jones, Matthew MacFadyen.
As historical drama, Frost/Nixon is the story after the climax. President Richard M. Nixon had resigned his office in disgrace, so it wasn’t as if his 1977 interview series with British journalist David Frost presented much danger of bringing him down. And while Nixon’s taciturn acknowledgement of what most people already knew may have provided some catharsis to his political opponents back in the day (and indeed, apparently still do), the historical significance of the interviews is ultimately more of a fleeting footnote. The film in this context feels a bit like an anti-climactic sequel to All the President’s Men.
But as a character study, Frost/Nixon is a riveting duel of wits between two men determined to use the other to their advantage. For Nixon (Frank Langella), it’s a chance to rehabilitate his image and return to politics. For Frost (Michael Sheen), it’s a chance to ditch his playboy reputation and establish himself as a major player in broadcast news.
The film has a very stage theatrical feel to it, which is to be expected since it was adapted from a play by Peter Morgan (who also wrote the screenplay). That the performances of Sheen and Langella are exquisite comes as no surprise. They reprised their roles from the stage play, for which Langella already had won a Tony Award.
Of course, staging is not a problem for a director the caliber of Ron Howard, whose ability to re-create the feel of the era seems effortless.
One of the best aspects of the home video version is the inclusion of clips from the actual interviews for comparison with the film. The Blu-ray goes a step further, letting viewers play clips side-by-side with the film and toggle between the audio. The function takes a while to load, and I would have preferred to see more of the real interview (which, for those interested, is available in its entirety from Liberation), but there’s enough here to give a good flavor of what the filmmakers accomplished.
And if that isn’t enough, there are plenty of featurettes in which the filmmakers explain how they accomplished it, from the Blu-ray exclusive “Discovering Secrets: The People and Places Behind the Story,” to a traditional making-of featurette that is also included on the DVD.
For most viewers, Howard’s commentary will probably give the best sense of the making of the film. Pulling off a solo commentary is a skill, and Howard proves quite adept at it, though his anecdotes begin to stretch thin after about an hour, leaving large gaps in his discussion.
Both the DVD and Blu-ray also include a nice piece about the Nixon Presidential Library that in some ways balances the tendency of participants in the other programs to pile on Nixon politically.
Particularly distracting is former Frost researcher James Reston (played by Sam Rockwell in the film), who uses his interviews as a huge sounding board to bash George W. Bush. Screenwriter Morgan acknowledges that while there are certain situational parallels, it was not his intent to create an allegory about politics today.
For those interested, Kevin Bacon connects to the real Richard Nixon in just two steps. Nixon’s famous cameo on “Laugh In” came in an episode that also featured Jack Lemmon, who appeared in JFK with Kevin Bacon.