Recreating events from recently past history in a film is a tricky business. If part of your audience remembers the event, the concern is that they’ll be looking at the details and not the overall story. When your film is about a former president, the scrutiny is that much greater.
Ron Howard’s “Frost/Nixon,” is based on Peter Morgan’s hit play. The highlight of both the play and the film is the interview/confrontation between Richard Nixon and David Frost. Nixon is a recently disgraced former president. Frost is an English talk show host who, possibly because he started out as a comedian, is viewed as a bit of a joke.
Frost is able to score the only interview with Nixon because of his background; how tough can the questions be if a former stand-up is asking them? Knowing his professional and personal life is on the line, (Frost kicks in his own cash to pay Nixon and loses his hit Australian talk show in the process,) Frost goes out and finds a couple of writers and journalists to help him write the questions for the interview that will, hopefully, force Nixon to issue the apology that he had heretofore not offered.
Did it happen that way? Not really. A cursory read of the Wikipedia page shows that things didn’t exactly play out the way Morgan and director Ron Howard show them. But this isn’t real life- this is a movie. Some liberties must be taken.
If the film is all about the showdown between these two people, the two actors should be good and they are. Frank Langella and Michael Sheen are both excellent. While everyone seems to single out Langella, I think special attention should be paid to Sheen. He’s carrying the heavier load. While Langella must re-create a character everyone knows, Sheen is forced to carry the emotional weight of the film. Both are wonderful.
Howard’s direction is quiet and unobtrusive. He simply sits back and lets the actors have at it. He knows it’s an actor’s movie. While there are some films of his I could complain about, this is not one of them. His handling of the material is excellent.
“Frost/Nixon,” doesn’t offer many fireworks and perhaps you walk out feeling a little underwhelmed. But it’s a movie that is more than the sum of its parts. The two main parts being Langella and Sheen. The filmmaking harkens back to cinema of the 1970s; the focus is on the right thing. It’s the acting. Much like “Doubt,” one can only sit back and enjoy the performances of two actors at the top of their game. Enjoy. -Sam