Sunday, March 8, 2009
I expected “Frost/Nixon,” directed by Ron Howard, to be solely a re-enactment of David Frost’s interviews with Richard Nixon following the latter’s presidential resignation due to the Watergate scandal. Of course the interviews are pivotal to the film, but there’s much more character development and dramatic tension than a mere dramatization of a transcript would allow.
David Frost (Michael Sheen) was a lightweight English talk show host specializing more in celebrities than in political figures. Nixon's (Frank Langella) resignation inspired Frost to pursue the series of interviews that riveted the nation. Despite the entreaties of his researchers that he confront Nixon for his war policies in Vietnam and Cambodia and his complicity in Watergate, Frost, according to the film, was unprepared in the first few interviews. The former president saw the interviews as a chance to rehabilitate his reputation, and viewed Frost as an adversary. Frost allowed Nixon to engage in rambling replies that avoided a full accounting of his egregious actions in office. It was only after a late night phone call to Frost in which a tipsy Nixon revealed his deep insecurities and intention to come out the winner that Frost finally did the research that the interviews demanded.
In the final interview, Frost exposed the fact that Nixon did indeed engage in covering up the Watergate break–in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Following a startling statement that “When the president does it, that means it’s not illegal,” Nixon admitted his complicity and his deep regret. Nixon shows much insight in a final meeting with Frost when he states that the extroverted Frost should have been a politician and the analytical, mistrustful Nixon should have been an interviewer. Both Langella and Sheen are outstanding, with the former capturing Nixon's complexities and contradictions and the latter convincingly depicting Frost's development into a host equal to the task of confronting the only American president to resign from office.