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Frost/Nixon [Blu-ray][Region Free]
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Based on Peter Morgan's stage play, Ron Howard directs this dramatised account of the 1977 TV interviews between scandalised former President Richard Nixon and British talk-show host David Frost. Three years after the Watergate scandal that led to his demise, former president Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) sat down with Frost (Michael Sheen) to discuss, for the first and only time, the details of his term in the White House and his spectacular fall from grace. With the famously steely Nixon confident that he could come out tops in the encounter, and Frost's side questioning whether this was a step too far, media commentators prepared themselves for a PR exercise. But when the interviews got underway, observers were astonished when both men abandoned their usual stances, and chose to conduct an open, honest and frank exchange of views, covering all the areas of concern that had previously remained off-limits. In addition to covering the interviews themselves, the film also traces the difficulties that had to be overcome, and egos that had to massaged, before the historic events could finally take place.
It’s not always that a stage play translates particularly well to the medium of movies. But for anyone considering such a challenge in the future, Frost/Nixon is surely a fine template to follow. In the capable hands of director Ron Howard, the extraordinary story of how a then-fairly low profile television interviewer managed to bring the disgraced former President of the United States to account is, at best, absolutely riveting. Much of the reason for this is the two leading performances, which are both absolutely exception. The awards attention for Frost/Nixon has been directed towards Frank Langella, and truly he’s an actor long overdue some recognition. Here, as ex-President Nixon, he’s flat-out brilliant: a complex, intriguing character portrayed with real measure and expertise. It’s unfair, though, that Michael Sheen has been overlooked by some. Fresh from portraying Tony Blair in The Queen, Sheen is once more brilliant here, injecting Frost with an erratic, on-the-edge fallibility that sets up the film’s final act extremely well. Now you can argue, with some right, that Frost/Nixon flattens out some of the facts to its own liking, and certainly the portrayal of David Frost doesn’t seem to do the man too many favours. But when it gets to the interviews themselves, it’s electric, and proof that you don’t need a bunch of effects and flashy gimmicks to keep you on the edge of your seat. Ron Howard has done this to us before with a true story, in the shape of Apollo 13, and here again, even though we know the ending, the journey there is quite brilliant. You really can make compelling drama with just two people sat in a chair… --Simon BrewStills from Frost/Nixon See all Product description
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Thus, I came into Frost/Nixon as a bit of a blank slate, and in many ways, I'm glad I did.
In 1974, in the wake of the Watergate scandal and threats of impeachment, Richard Nixon becomes the first and only President in US history to resign while still in office. Absolved of all wrong-doing by his successor Gerald Ford, he retires to a life of virtual obscurity on the West Coast. But the wilderness doesn't sit well with the former President, and he soon begins a public relations comeback effort.
In steps David Frost, a lightweight but massively ambitious British talk show host notorious for his playboy lifestyle, who manages to put together a deal to interview Nixon about his life, his Presidency and, most importantly, about Watergate. Believing Frost to be a lightweight on the political stage rather than a serious investigative journalist, and seening an opportunity to rebuild his reputation, Nixon agrees.
What follows is a verbal and intellectual battle between the two men as they fight for their respective causes - Frost to uncover the truth and Nixon to protect it. With both of their careers on the line, neither will pull any punches. But there can only be one winner.
The thing that undoubtedly makes Ron Howard's big screen stage play adaptation so compelling are the excellent performances from leads Sheen and Lengella as Frost and Nixon, respectively. Sheen, the consumate impersonator, does an excellent job as Frost, mimicking his mannerisms and speech patterns perfectly.
He also brings home just how much Frost gambled on these interviews - he had invested all of his personal finances, not to mention borrowing money from friends in order to make the deal a reality. At times, the pressure on him is almost overwhelming.
Kevin Bacon and Sam Rockwell give solid supporting performances as Nixon's Chief of Staff and Frost's head researcher respectively, and Rebecca Hall is there to provide decent eye candy.
But the real star of the show is without doubt Frank Langella as the restless, tormented Richard Nixon. Even with his stooped posture and greying wig, he doesn't look or even sound much like the former President, but he somehow embodies everything vital about Nixon - his self destructive combination of intellectual brilliance and self doubt, defiance and regret, arrogance and self hatred. In every scene he's in, he literally is Nixon.
In one of the most compelling scenes of the movie, a confident Nixon has managed to outplay Frost in every interview, leaving only Watergate still to be resolved. But even then his demons get the better of him, and in a drunken late night phone call to Frost's hotel room, he taunts his nemesis and bitterly rails against his perceived enemies in The Establishment. More than anything, this one scene gives the greatest insight into the mind that was capable of such great achievements and such terrible mistakes.
Ultimately, Frost, filled with fresh determination in the wake of his phone call from Nixon, comes into the final interview focussed and ready. And at last, he's able to do what no Supreme Court judge ever could - elicit a confession from the former President.
Frost/Nixon is one of those rare films that I find hard to fault, not because it is flawless, but rather because I enjoyed it so much that it's problems almost pale into insignificance. If I was to be truly critical, I'd question the inclusion of Rebecca Hall, since she really doesn't do much except pout and look pretty - she's there to balance out a largely all-male cast, nothing more. And from a more historical perspective, I know this movie exaggerates certain elements of the Frost/Nixon interviews for the sake of drama (Nixon was in fact convinced by his own people to make the admission of guilt), but I really don't care about these problems, because I just like this film.
Ron Howard's take on this compelling political drama is well worth watching, both for those who lived through this turbulent period in American political life and those, like me, who see it in retrospect.
Both Michael Sheen as Frost and Frank Langella as Nixon give terrific perfomances, but to me the real star is the script, which allows the actors to demonstrate the complexity of their characters and of the situation which they had created by arranging the interviews. It does use dramatic licence, and some critics thought that it made Frost's interviews more important historically than they really were. But as a film, this really works and grabs the attention from the very beginning. Although it has fictionalised the events somewhat, it is in an attempt to demonstrate in a dramatic way the characters of David Frost and Richard Nixon.
The film was nominated for a number of awards.
The film is full of superb acting performances. Frank Langella is the star as a brooding, tormented and nigh-on demented Nixon at times. Sheen is superb as Frost managing to juggle a seemingly native superciliousness with an inner resolve to prove that he is more than the lightweight talk-show bunny for which he is initially dismissed by almost all around him. Kevin Bacon is also excellent as Nixon's bulldog like lawyer. Sam Rockwell from "Jesse James and Robert Ford" is also energetic and convincing as part of Frost's investigative team. Matthew Macfayden is a very good foil to Frost, and only Oliver Platt is a little weak as Rockwell's colleague. He is partly let down by having too much of the film's rarest resource: occasionally duff dialogue.
For the most part, as a stage-adaptation should offer, the dialogue is very good. Perhaps the boxing metaphors as a description of the verbal contest are occasionally overdone - Langella's comment to Bacon about "throwing in the towel" comes off a little half-baked. My only other minor criticisms would be that the film is a bit of a slow-burner, although gripping once the two leads have met. And I also found that Rebecca Hall's role as Miss Cushing seemed somewhat expendable. It seemed to me more the traditional economic wisdom that without any prominent female roles the film is not sufficiently relatable for half of ticket-buying humanity than genuine dramaturgy. I am of course not advocating films with fewer female roles! Just questioning how well managed they were in Frost/Nixon.
Minor gripes aside this is a compelling grown-up drama, a worthy Oscar candidate and a film well worth seeing. Why not buy the DVD? There are plenty of close-ups were seeing every pore of the contenders' faces blossoms so much more in High Definition, and a DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack means you will never be reaching for the subtitles button even when words are whispered or intoned closer to incoherence than one might normally want due to emotional pressure. Highly recommended.
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