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IN SHORT: See it for Langella. [Rated R for some language. 122 minutes]
There is a moment in Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon at which Frank Langella's Nixon expresses regret that the actions that have come to be grouped under the general term of "Watergate" instilled in a generation of young Americans the notion that their government is corrupt. I'd have to watch the film again to be 100% accurate that "Nixon" didn't use the word apologize; I think it was closer to a noncommittal "I'm sorry that . . ." but that would take me away from the point I'm about to make.
Longtime readers by now have noticed that Cranky isn't writing with the journalistic "we". Frost/Nixon is, for me personally, like ripping a scab off a wound. The one line I just referenced is Watergate in a nutshell. I, personally, had been involved in local political stuff since working for a candidate's run for the House of Representatives back when I was about fourteen or so. With the Vietnam war tearing this country apart at that time, getting involved, even on the smallest level of stuffing envelopes or putting up posters for a candidate, was the right thing to do. If you don't get involved you have no right to complain about what happens. I believed that then. I'd instill that in my kids if I have any. But I haven't trusted government since Nixon. There are other reasons but you'll have to wait for a Ronald Reagan film bio to get the lowdown on Cranky vs. US of A.
What may be lost in the film is that, without the stain of Watergate, Richard Nixon's presidency might have gone down as one of the greatest of the twentieth century. The Nixon-Kennedy debates that cost him the presidency in 1960 aside, the man opened China to the rest of the world. That was a very big deal in its time. Nixon was always more interested in foreign affairs matters, which is interesting since his paranoia could have made him xenophobic. That's real life. That's the end of our venting.
What you get out this film depends a lot on what you bring in. For a generation born after Nixon was out of the public eye, Howard's film in our own personal opinion, does not get across just how badly Nixon's actions divided this country. Honestly, I don't know if it could. Built for a generation that already carries the necessary background, the film the film doesn't provide enough of the necessary background to make the two hours more than a good sit. For the generations that do bring in that extra background, it all comes down to Frank Langella's performance as Richard Nixon. That performance is excellent.
So here we have on David Frost (Michael Sheen), a lightweight talk show host whose American show had failed. We're not being cruel to the real Frost. We watched his show as a kid. It was perhaps the earliest of what now passes for entertainment journalism but, in the mid 70s, losing that American outlet was a kiss of death to a man with great ambition. With the Nixon presidency gone in the wake of Watergate and the unconditional pardon granted by the succeeding president, Frost approached Nixon with the offer to make his side known. There could be no criminal actions in light of anything the ex-president said, and the proposed multi-segment program contractually reduced matters of Watergate to 25% of the matters to be discussed.
While Nixon was prepared for a puff piece, at one point (if you are to believe the narrative as truthful) Nixon called Frost and, basically, dared him to grow a pair. That he (Nixon) was prepared for battle. A conversation that Nixon didn't remember the next day -- kids, stay away from alcohol (Nixon admitted to Frost that he had had a drink or two before making the call). By the time it was done, Americans who wanted an apology or an admission of guilt got as close as they were ever going to get.
The other name stars fill out the supporting cast: Nixon's Chief of Staff Colonel Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon); Frost's research staff of two, reporter Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt) and Nixon hater, author James Reston Jr. (Sam Rockwell); Frost's girlfriend Caroline Cushing (Rebecca Hall); Nixon's agent Irving "Swifty" Lazar (Toby Jones) and Frost's British producer John Birt (Matthew MacFayden)
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Frost/Nixon, he would have paid . . .
Those not of the time will give it much higher. We will, once again, give props to Frank Langella, who should get his Academy nomination for this performance. He'll probably win too, unless we see something better in the next two weeks. That'll be tough. [addendum 12/24/08: big ground swell for Clint Eastwood, fuelled by rumors that Gran Torino will be his last film could mess up Frank's chances]
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