- Released Internationally on 05/12/08
- Released in Malta by KRS on 11/03/09
A little bit of history
- June 1972 – Watergate break-in foiled.
- March 1973 – Evidence of the involvement of the Nixon administration comes forth.
- August 1974 – Richard Nixon resigns the US presidency – to date the only person to do so.
- August 1976 – David Frost signs a contract with Nixon, outlining the interviews.
- March/April 1977 – Frost interviews Nixon over 12 days, each session lasting around 2 hours.
- May 1977 – Four 90-minute programs are broadcast, drawing over 40 million viewers.
- April 1994 – Nixon passes away four days after suffering a stroke.
- January 2004 – Writer Peter Morgan approaches David Frost about writing a play based on his 1977 interviews.
- August 2006 – ‘Frost/Nixon’, the play opens in London, to rave reviews.
- September 2007 – David Frost publishes ‘Frost/Nixon’ – his book about the interviews, including full transcripts of all the recording sessions.
- October 2008 – A big-screen adaptation, directed by Ron Howard, premieres in London.
- February 2009 – Despite not having even been born for the first 6 dates above, this viewer finds the film to be engrossing, exciting, and one of the best-made films of the year.
A sense of occasion
The opening titles merge into archival audio and footage of the Watergate hearings, interspersed with behind-the-scenes preparations as Nixon is about to make his resignation announcement. Director Ron Howard also uses the clever technique of mock-documentary shots, where actors from the film give brief, into-the-camera interviews, in character, which provide intimate information about how it felt to be watching those broadcasts at the time. These snapshot interviews pepper the film throughout, and help add insight as well as remind us that we are watching landmark history events.
We then head downunder to find David Frost, who at the time was hosting a talk show on Australian television. The lively showman, with something of a playboy reputation, is intrigued by the happening across the globe, and dreams up a television coup that could draw in millions of viewers. Strongly believing in his idea, he sets about building a team to help bring it to life, and contacts Nixon’s team to try and set up a meeting. As expected, his idea is shot down by friends, advisors and advertisers, but he keeps at it, even forking out the initial cash from his own pocket. As the project miraculously takes shape, everyone’s excitement is palpable. Michael Sheen, whom you might remember as Tony Blair in The Queen, reprises his acclaimed role from the play, and it’s evident that this is a character he is by now very comfortable playing. His charm and optimism win everybody over, but when push comes to shove and the interviews get rough, he shows what a great interviewer Frost is and why he was a worthy adversary for Nixon.Nixon
Also reprising his much-acclaimed role from the play is Frank Langella (Good Night and Good Luck, Superman Returns) as Nixon. The veteran stage and screen actor has the added difficulty of portraying a widely-known character, yet despite not much of a physical resemblance he becomes the president remarkably, and at no point does it feel like you’re watching an impersonation. His elegant voice and manner instantly convince you that this man once ruled the world, yet his eventual defeated expression and sweaty upper lip manage to show a man who is carrying a heavy burden. It’s a joy to watch him and Sheen spar throughout the film.
Stranger than fiction
Watching a film like this, and knowing that this actually happened a few decades ago makes it all the more captivating. A few liberties with the truth were taken by writer Peter Morgan when the play was written, and the film script was adapted by Morgan himself. Most variations from the truth are mere technicalities, as highlighted by Frost in his book, and detract nothing from the essential facts. One of the fictionalizations, a late-night phone call by Nixon on the eve of the crucial interview, was hailed by Frost himself as a ‘masterpiece’.
The great Kevin Bacon (Apollo 13, Murder in the First) gives an upright and determined performance as Nixon’s chief of staff, who leads the Nixon team and at times seems to be the only person who truly believes in the ex-president and who will do anything to safeguard his interests. Frost’s team is made up of Oliver Platt (A Time To Kill, Indecent Proposal) as editor Bob Zelnick, Sam Rockwell (Matchstick Men, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) as author Sam Renton Jr. and Matthew Macfadyen (Pride and Prejudice) as producer John Birt. En route to the US, Frost also picks up the lovely Caroline Cushing (Rebecca Hall – Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Prestige). Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, The DaVinci Code) directs.
In the end
From the word go, the film makes it very clear that what the public and the press want is an apology from Nixon, and Frost sets out to get that apology on prime-time TV. Throughout the film, Howard builds beautifully towards the grand finale. Watching the interviews unfold is a joy, as Nixon cleverly ‘stonewalls’ all Frost’s questions and plays out the interviews exactly as he wants to, but watching Frost come back in the ring as he desperately tries to break Nixon down is one of the cinematic highlights of the year.
You can see a few clips from the original interviews here: http://www.frostnixon.com/