Frost/Nixon (TheByteScene Review)

4 Pseudo-Biographical-Documentaries out of 4

It’s not a film so much as a documentary leading up to and including the events of the interviews between David Frost and Richard Nixon. It’s not meant to produce any major resonance in the hearts of the audience – we already know who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong. Many of us already know the story behind Richard Nixon’s resignation, and even if the details are incomplete we recognize the scandal behind Watergate. For the minority that remains unaware of Nixon’s involvement in the scandal, the film begins with a series of clips swiftly detailing the event.

Indeed, though much of the film’s conflict centres around Frost cornering Nixon into confessing his mistakes and his involvement in the events of Watergate, the film makes no effort to hide the fact that its primary focus is on the interviews and not Nixon’s policy. Frost/Nixon takes an editorial approach to the 1977 interviews between British television host turned journalist David Frost and former US President Richard Nixon. It’s revealed that each of the involved have their reasons for choosing to accept the conditions for the interviews. Nixon wants a chance to give his side of the story and he wants to remind the American people that he made more positive contributions than negative. Frost just wants fame; near the beginning of the film a character remarks that Frost has sad eyes and it’s true.

Throughout much of the film Michael Sheen plays David Frost with a talk show host’s sense of apathy – we see him smile and grin in almost every scene excluding the interviews. After each failed attempt to force Nixon into confessing, he reassures the members of his research team – Zelnick, Reston, and Birt, played by Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, and Matthew Macfadyen – that the next day of taping will mark an improvement. In many ways Sheen’s portrayal of Frost is perfect, and I struggled to find any literary flaws with the character – we see little of Frost’s pessimism. After failing to secure bids from America’s top networks, he decides to finance the interviews using his own capital, and the money of friends and other interested parties. After failing to make any progress with Nixon, he continues to smile and grin with his sad eyes. He reduces himself to effectively groveling for financing, yet he smiles through it all on the sheer optimism that Nixon will be forced to confess through some sort of editorial miracle.

Contrarily, Langella’s Nixon is an unrelenting force that serves as the perfect foil for Sheen’s Frost. We see the former president conferring with his team regarding his political aspirations following his resignation, hospitalization, and subsequent discharge and they’re all adamant that his recovery – both physical and otherwise – is imminent. Langella’s Nixon is portrayed as a hardened fighter who revels in each decision he’s made showing no regret in any of his choices. Only two moments show Nixon in a moment of weakness, and even while recovering from phlebitis he seems agile-minded and sharp. The audience is treated to a man who genuinely believes that he will succeed in acquitting himself of any charges in the court of public opinion following the interviews.

History proved otherwise, though this fact is lost on the film’s script; the audience knows who wins and who loses – we know that Nixon would go on to suffer a swift defeat at the hands of Frost and we know that his return to politics would never occur, yet these truths don’t change the fact that it feels like we’re watching history happen.

Because of the film’s documentary-style we are.

It’s interesting to note that neither Frost nor Nixon are recorded for a one-on-one interview with the camera. It’s even more interesting to note that we never feel like we’re watching the events unfold as they happen, but that we’re watching a recreation of the events that possibly did unfold. It seems a direct contradiction to my earlier statement, but the hypocrisy is only grammatical and not literal. Praise should be aimed at Salvatore Totino for his cinematography, and Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill for their editing. Scenes are almost perfectly shot, and transitions are made in such a fluid manner that much of the film’s success rides on its stye and editing.

Ultimately, the film is a mockumentary of sorts, though in style alone. Had the voice-overs and camera interviews been delivered by the actual figures and personalities, one would be excused for believing that Ron Howard had directed an actual documentary on the Frost/Nixon interviews of 1977, with a few artistic liberties taken for cinematic purposes.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!


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