Film Reviews

FROST / NIXON

By • Nov 28th, 2008 •

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Too many words and no drama, unless effeminate Italian shoes is a metaphor for an unloved, bitter man.

“Can you imagine what this man would be like had anyone ever loved him?” Henry Kissinger

David Frost’s Italian shoes make a big impression on Nixon. He can’t stop talking and thinking about them. This historic interview was sold to the public as the epic interview by U.K. celebrity host David Frost showing disgraced, ex-president Richard Nixon confessing to “dirty tricks” and admitting what was on those 18-minutes of erased Oval Office tape recording.

No, my mistake. Nixon never apologized or admitted to orchestrating the Watergate debacle that led to his resigning the presidency. An assassination makes an American martyr; a bungled crime and sloppy cover-up is really the way to get rid of a clinically-troubled president.

Who voted for this mean-spirited, unfriendly man? Twice!

With Nixon in denial, considering his legacy, and always checking the dollar figures, you’d think Frost would have skipped over everything and asked Nixon to rat out his enemies or spill some state secrets.

Nixon, as screenwriter Peter Morgan sees him, is a sad, wounded old man living in glorious exile with an ocean view. This is not a hatchet job but a starring, tour-de-force performance.

As you know, FROST/NIXON is about David (Michael Sheen) Frost’s 1977 interviews with ex-President Richard (Frank Langella) Nixon. Is this a bore!

It’s about the run-up to two men talking. One man only wants to date debutantes and starlets and, perhaps, make TV history; the other wants to put his personal stamp on history (and envies the other).

I hated Michael Sheen’s smirk as David Frost. Frost is downright unlikable, pompous, and, as shown here, talentless. But somehow, he charmed Nixon. How did he do that? Could it have been his Italian shoes?

Nixon Tape Transcripts (1971). “I have the greatest affection for them but I know they’re not going to make it for 500 years. They aren’t. You know it, too. The Mexicans are a different cup of tea. They have a heritage. At the present time they steal, they’re dishonest, but they do have some concept of family life. They don’t live like a bunch of dogs, which the Negroes do live like.”

If you think these two go at it in a metaphorical boxing ring, there is no sparring here. Nixon had been the most powerful man in the world; he knows how to handle a question. After skating through 75% of a fluff interview, Frost is forced to get down and dirty and starts asking the tough questions. As if Nixon is going to confess to David Frost! So why didn’t Frost ask him about his well-known racism or anti-Semitism?

In hindsight, Nixon’s Watergate looks like a Three Stooges B&E blunder. American jobs weren’t lost over Watergate or the economy devastated. What is the relevancy today?

According to FROST/NIXON, Nixon left the White House broke. He gets seduced to do these interviews for two reasons: Frost is a lightweight, and he needs the money.

“The essence of Richard Nixon is loneliness.” Henry A. Kissinger

The supporting players are Col. Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon), Nixon’s loyal caretaker, Frost’s two researchers (Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell), who are the most interesting, and the awesome Rebecca Hall as Frost’s girlfriend, Caroline Cushing. Frost flaunted his womanizing reputation and that’s all Nixon is really interested in. But, for all his braggadocio, Frost only has one live-in girlfriend here. And he insists on taking Caroline everywhere!

Directed by Ron Howard and scripted by Peter Morgan (based on his play) what made anyone think this could be cinematic? The dramatic music makes one think that something exciting is about to happen. It does! Frost leans forward!

Langella does a terrific job channeling misery and loneliness, but with those jowls hung so low and deeply bagged eyes, who couldn’t look miserable? Sheen and Langella played these parts on stage, but the dressing around them is far more interesting than when they get to sit across from each other.

Nixon: I still think we ought to take the North Vietnamese dikes out now. Will that drown people? Kissinger: About two hundred thousand people. Nixon: No, no, no, I’d rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry? Kissinger: That, I think, would just be too much. Nixon: The nuclear bomb, does that bother you?…I just want you to think big, Henry, for Christsakes.

In conversation with Henry Kissinger regarding Vietnam, as quoted in “Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers”. (2002) by Daniel Ellsberg

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