Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Brrr...it's Cold In Here: Frost/Nixon


A long time ago in a generation far far away a little thing called "Watergate" was ruining a presidency and fascinating nations around the world.   As the weeks dragged on, and it began to look more and more like Nixon was indeed a crook, calls for impeachment arose and, in one of the most disgracing moments in U.S. history, Nixon resigned.   The nation watched while their vice-president took over, only to pardon the man many felt was responsible for the shaming of the United States' highest office.

Most, if not everyone, knows this story.  It's what we would call an oldie but a goody, if there had been anything good about any of it.  Instead the U.S. was just left with something of a hole
and none of the guilty parties to fill it.  

That's where our story picks up and what follows is 2 hours of suspense, no easy feat when we already know the conclusion.  However, in the hands of Ron Howard, I'm beginning to believe that nothing is impossible (he could probably do a remake of the movie based on the Hindenburg and I'd still be surprised when it exploded).  Based on the play by the same name, and written by Peter Morgan (The Queen), Howard's latest is equal parts suspense, political intrigue, and flat-out great acting.  I'm usually skeptical of stage adaptations, but this one works on every level.

Frank Langella's Nixon is a man that many have scorned and derided for years.  Nixon was no saint, that part's always been true, but what politician ever has been?  What Langella is perfect at conveying is that social awkwardness that led to Nixon's downfall.  While his illegal actions certainly didn't help, it was his adamant unpopularity that was really the destructive force behind the Nixon white house.  

On the opposite side of the spectrum is Michael Sheen's David Frost, the British tv host who could throw parties rivaling Hugh Hefner.  Frost was good at playing up his playboy image, and in a world filled with tv cameras, he was never one to turn down an appearance. 

The only thing these two had in common was good old-fashioned, reach-for-the-brass-ring ambition.  It's this link that seems to fascinate Howard.  While what we should be seeing is two men entirely at odds with each other, what we end up witnessing is an almost mirror-image face off as the interviews proceed.  While the accusations should be flying, we get anecdotes and easy-pitch questions.  It's only when push comes to shove that things start to get nasty.  In a monologue that will probably earn him a Best Actor nod, Langella shows Nixon's true colors in a late night attempt to intimidate Frost.  

While by all accounts this should be a boring movie, really it's just interviews interspersed with cut-aways and flash-back confessions, there's something completely engaging about all of it.  Howard's directing seems effortless and Sheen and Langella fit their roles with so much ease, that you almost wonder if you're watching a documentary.  While Langella is great, the standout for me is the always fantastic Michael Sheen.  I don't think there's anything that he can't do and in this role he gets to show both the agony of defeat and something as close to triumph as we get.  Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell and Matthew Macfayden are also great as Frost's cronies/researchers (and if I had to pick a favorite, I'd go with Platt as my standout) and Kevin Bacon adds another great degree of separation.  In almost everyone's top 10 of the year, and Oscar buzz galore, I agree with all of it.  This is a must-see if you can see and so 

Overall 4.5 out of 5 polyester collars.




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