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FROST/NIXON

Matt here, jumping into a time machine to bring you this message from the past. FROST/NIXON opened in the U.S. today and I thought it might be a good idea to re-post this review from back in October... In 1977 Richard Nixon, the disgraced US President of the Watergate affair had spent 3 years in the political wilderness, resolutely silent on the events that led to his resignation, keeping his presence alive as an occasional dinner speaker but longing for some kind of redemption and the opportunity to return to the hotbed of Washington DC. David Frost, a seemingly lightweight, light-entertainment TV host in Britain and Australia was after his own makeover, in particular a chance to return to the bright television lights of the US. A chance to really make his name. Frost instigated, and practically bankrolled a series of 4 recorded interviews with Nixon, leading to a monumental moment in American TV history, a recognition on Nixon€™s part of culpability. Of guilt. Based on Peter Morgan€™s play of the same name, Ron Howard€™s film version of FROST/NIXON takes this confrontational story from the confines of the stage and explodes it across the cinema screen. Before the final head to head showdown Howard, and Morgan on screenwriting duty, take full advantage of film€™s expanded capabilities; you would be hard pressed to guess that it even had theatrical origins. From globetrotting between America, Australia and Britain, to character conversations moving from room to room, inside to outside, you get the feeling they wanted to take full advantage of a bigger canvas; and far from being superficial smoke and mirrors it actually makes the story-telling kinetic and, well, cinematic. To Frost€™s team the holy grail is a confession regarding the Watergate break-in, to Nixon€™s it€™s a chance to remove the Watergate stain once and for all, and by the time we get to the nub of the film, the interviews themselves, the restrictions of 2 men talking becomes a virtual boxing ring, each fighter with his own corner of advisors bolstering their man after each strategic pause and tape change. I can€™t comment on how it played on stage but on screen it€™s quietly exhilarating stuff. Of course all this would be ineffectual without actors equal to the task and in one of the smartest casting moves recently the production managed to secure the original leads from the stage version, Michael Sheen as Frost, and Frank Langella as Nixon. Both have the characters so ingrained that the obvious physical dissimilarity between them and their real-life counterparts is quickly irrelevant. They are practically two sides of the same coin, mercenary with both career and, humourously on Nixon€™s part, money. Sheen balances Frost€™s dual persona of TV personality (which carries over into a large part of his off-camera interaction with just about everyone), with the seldom but therefore even more effective moments of honest emotion. It€™s sometimes hard not to recall Sheen as Blair in THE QUEEN as both public men seemingly require that balance to function; in fact Langella€™s Nixon even comments that perhaps Frost would have been the more natural politician, and he the journalist. Frank Langella€™s masterful portrayal of Nixon really impresses; both probably deserve recognition but it€™s Langella who should walk away with the prize. He is by turn, presidential, caustic, clever, wounded and lost. After the dissection of all the terrible things Nixon did during his presidency the simple close-up that mirrors its real-life television counterpart, and the last meeting between Nixon and Frost after the circus has died down, dares you to not feel at least some degree of sympathy. The other major players all acquit themselves within the wider story, in particular the three members of Frost€™s team; Matthew Mcfadyen as stalwart British TV producer John Birt, Sam Rockwell as anti-Nixon academic James Reston, and Oliver Platt as newsman Bob Zelnick (both Rockwell and Platt providing some of their usual and effortless comic asides). Kevin Bacon also makes a welcome appearance as Nixon€™s rod of iron and former Chief of Staff, Jack Brennan. Like a classic boxing movie it all does finally come down to the final round, the agreed fourth interview covering the Watergate scandal, the first three having put our ostensible hero on the ropes. A final game-changing phone call from Nixon to Frost the night before proves to be the catalyst for Frost, and the route to at least a form of redemption for both men. In the end only one of them can win in the public eye, but victories aren€™t always so obvious.

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Film writer, drinker of Guinness. Part-time astronaut. Man who thinks there are only two real Indiana Jones movies, writing loglines should be an Olympic event, and that science fiction, comic book movies, 007, and Hal Hartley's Simple Men are the cures for most evils. Currently scripting.