Frost/Nixon is a fascinating look behind the scenes at the goings-on surrounding four TV interviews done in 1977 of disgraced President Richard Nixon by British TV talk show host David Frost. The premise of the film may not immediately grab you, but hold off on making any snap judgments based on a simple synopsis of the story. Summarizing Frost/Nixon in one or two lines doesn't do justice to the plot, the ensemble acting, Peter Morgan's screenplay, or Ron Howard's direction. Frost/Nixon is actually one of the more interesting, intriguing, and entertaining films of 2008.
Peter Morgan (The Queen, Last King of Scotland) wrote the play Frost/Nixon with no intention of turning it into a feature film. But almost immediately after Frost/Nixon started its run on the stage, he began hearing rumblings about how good it might be as a movie. Director Ron Howard saw the play, was drawn into the world of Frost versus Nixon, and ultimately convinced Morgan to adapt his play for the screen. Morgan did so, and crafting the screenplay actually allowed him to flesh out pivotal scenes and to add more backstory to the complicated true story of how the most unlikely of TV personalities was able to land a four-part interview with one of America's most controversial public servants.
Michael Sheen and Frank Langella star, respectively, as Frost and Nixon in the feature film, roles they received critical acclaim for onstage in 2006 and 2007. Sheen and Langella perfected their parts while performing in front of live audiences, and now in the feature film they're simply brilliant bringing to life these two men whose lives on the surface couldn't have been more dissimilar. But despite outward appearances, there was in fact a common thread driving both men forward in their chosen careers. Neither Nixon nor Frost was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and both fought their way into the public spotlight, emerging as men who - during specific periods in their careers - deserved to be admired and respected.
At the time of the interviews, Frost's day job was doing fluff pieces on celebs on TV. Nixon was living in California outside of the spotlight, far away from the Washington power circles he still craved to be a part of. These four interviews conducted over a series of days elevated Frost's standing in the eyes of not only television viewers but amongst his peers. And while Nixon didn't earn back the respect of the American voters he'd betrayed while in office, the interviews made it evident he was – at his core – a flawed human who wanted to come clean about his involvement in Watergate. It is absolutely astounding to hear that, by his own admission, Nixon appeared to have convinced himself being President of the United States meant you were above the law.
Sheen and Langella are surrounded by a terrific batch of supporting players who fill out the roles of the real people in Nixon and Frost's inner circles at the time of the interviews. And director Howard's firm grasp of the material (he did a lot of extra research into the subject matter and secured permission to shoot in some of the actual locations where the events took place) brings the story to life without any unnecessary distractions. The momentum really builds as the two main characters head toward their fourth and final confrontation, and you know - as did the actual participants - that by the time it's over only one man will be able to emerge a winner. Fortunately, director Howard, screenwriter Morgan, and the fine ensemble cast make it so that audiences will also emerge winners from having seen this surprisingly timely dramatic piece.
Frost/Nixon was directed by Ron Howard and is rated R for some language.
Theatrical Release Date: December 5, 2008 and December 12 (limited), wide release on December 25, 2008