There will be no surprises in terms of the content here. Anyone could find out about the interviews which form the basis of this film, this is not a film of startling revelations about one of America's most controversial presidents, nor a film with a particularly intriguing story about how the famous Frost/Nixon interviews came to be yet it remains from start to finish utterly compelling.
That it does this is due to three things. First, slick direction and pacing from a director from whom one would expect a quality product. As a director, Howard has evolved into a reliable and solid director with excellent shot choices and camerawork. Secondly, brilliant performances from Michael Sheen and Frank Langella. Sheen once again "becomes" his character rather than simply impersonating him. Like he did with Tony Blair and Brian Clough, Sheen is still recognisably Sheen yet he is also so much like David Frost it's uncanny at times. As for Langella, quite simply a career defining performance, he is simply astounding as the ex-president. He manages to squeeze out an element of sympathy for Nixon who is corrupt, quick witted, shrewd and yet somewhat misguided. His belief that as President he was above the law is dreadful and quite rightly he fell from grace but Langella's performance suggests that it was as much the fault of those surrounding him as it was Nixon himself. It is hard to imagine that this was in fact actually the case and Nixon the Man has done little to inspire sympathy in real life but Langella's Nixon simply can't seem to see that what he did was wrong:- and that at the very least he acted according to his conscience and this is why the film succeeds for me. If it was simply a Nixon-bashing exercise, it would lose much of the tension. The two principles are supported by some excellent performances, most notably from Sam Rockwell and the ever-reliable Kevin Bacon.
The third feature which makes this film essential viewing is the exploration of the damage that Nixon and his successor Ford by his pardoning of Nixon did to the Office of the US President and the implication that one or two of the more recent incumbents of that Office have once again flown close to the flames of scandal and cover-up!