Frost/Nixon: Ron Howard

10Feb09

by The Great White Gypsy

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For the past eight years, Washington has been rocked by the biggest scandal in history.  It wasn’t an isolated event (like Clinton’s Monica-gate, or Whitewater-gate…or Lie-to-Ken Star-while-playing-the-saxophone-gate.); it was an ongoing disservice to the American people that I will now dub “Dyslexia-gate”.  It has made us forget that we ever had an intelligent president who wasn’t addicted to fat chicks.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Richard M. Nixon resigned the Presidency after his accused involvement with Watergate (*sigh*…try wikipedia).  A short time later, Australian talk show host David Frost approached the ex-president to do a televised interview, “No-holes-barred”.  In a series of taped interviews that would later make history, Nixon waxed nostalgic and spoke circles around Frost before finally being confronted with his involvement in the scandal on the last day of taping.  Nixon was a great politician who got his hands dirty during a dirty time in our nation’s history.  That may not be how everyone remembers him, but it’s definitely how Ron Howard and Peter Morgan remember him, and it really shows in Frost/Nixon.

Sometimes, the problem with a stage play transitioning to the big screen is the sheer scope of everything, the arrogance of the director and actors, and the butchering of the dialog.  So I have to tip my hat to Ron Howard, who, when he decided to make this film, insisted that Peter Morgan (author of the play) write the screenplay, and Michael Sheen and Frank Langella reprise their stage rolls (Langella actually won an Emmy for the stage production).  I think that had a lot to do with the two actors’ comfort and confidence on screen.

The casting in this film could not have been more perfect.  Not only do Sheen and Langella continue their stellar work, but Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon, and Rebecca Hall are perfect additions, each one fitting their characters like a glove.  Anthony Hopkins might disagree, but I don’t think there has been a better Nixon than Langella since Tricky Dick himself, and his nomination from the Academy is well earned.  He comes across, not like a demented senior citizen, or an evil corruptor, but a man of conviction and heart who may or may not have done regrettable things for the sake of our country (if you can find Cambodia on a map, you probably know the real answer).  Sheen’s portrayal of Frost is dead on, a sheepish talk show host with delusions of grandeur afraid to ask the tough questions.

You may not like Ron Howard (I kinda don’t), but his mainstream, formulaic career aside, he is an experienced director who knows how to construct a film.  The camera work is fantastic, up close and personal the entire time.  No official conversations while walking down an endless maze of hallways to find cheese (stupid West Wing), everything is right in your face.  I also found it interesting that the film is constructed like a making of, or an actual documentary, with interviews of the team members and presidential aides interspersed throughout.

Sure you could throw out cliché lessons from this, like “Presidents are people too”, or “The media is bloodthirsty and dehumanizing”, or “Rebecca Hall is hot” (that one’s true).  But when it’s all said and done, Ron Howard showed us that, in the middle of all the controversy and media frenzy, there were real people doing what they thought was right.

Ah, Ron…you always give me that warm and fuzzy feeling in the end.

Final Grade: B+



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