Monday, February 9, 2009
If Frost/Nixon had left one scene on the cutting room floor I would be more inclined in it's favor, and more willing to accept that it really was one of the five best movies of the year, as opposed to a very effective and entertaining (if unmemorable) piece of Oscar bait. (Note: The next few paragraphs will contain spoilers.)
The night before his last crack at Nixon, David Frost (played very well by Michael Sheen, although I may just be biased in favor of his accent) is waiting for his girlfriend to call when the phone rings. It's not her, but a drunk Richard Nixon, who on the flimsiest of pretexts starts discoursing on upper-crust snobbery and the inability to ever really rise above one's social station before cursing them all quite forcefully and hanging up the phone.
It's quite emotional stuff, and it so perfectly seems to corroborate the popular dime-store psychoanalysis that has emerged as the Nixon consensus. You know why that is? BECAUSE IT NEVER HAPPENED! And everyone involved in the movie freely admits this. They'd have to, because it's so obviously fake. It's just an excuse to let Langella (whose performance is restrained and much more authentic in the rest of the film) loose. From the very beginning of the scene I was wishing it over, all the while imagining Langella screaming "Look at me, I'm acting!" It was that bad, and even worse, it was unnecessary. They didn't need to put that in there, this idea of Nixon is so ingrained that we don't need it laid out there for us. You can be subtle about Nixon, because we know all this about him.
Okay, SPOILERS OVER: I think the best parts of this movie are the scenes where Frost and his staff (Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, and Matthew MacFayden) prepare for the interviews and later when they argue over the direction they are taking. Several of the other small parts are well-done as well, including Toby Jones as Nixon's agent, Kevin Bacon as the president's loyal Chief of Staff, and Rebecca Hall as Frost's girlfriend.
Frost/Nixon is a very entertaining movie based on a fairly slim premise. The idea that these interviews proved anything, provided closure, or were, in one character's words, "the trial Richard Nixon never got" is overblown. The film's main problem is that it's writer (Peter Morgan, also the author of the play) knows that the premise is slim but decides to over-dramatize the event anyway. That being said, there are some fine performances and the interactions between the members of Frost's staff are particularly well-written. I just don't see it as a five-nominations type of movie. I can buy Langella's nom, (except for that scene I described above) although I think Sheen is really the lead and more deserving. All in all, I'll give it a flat 8.0 out of 10, and that easily could have been 8.5 or higher, if they'd just cut about 40 seconds out of the movie.