Frost/Nixon DVD: Review By Dodd

Ron Howard goes the Oliver Stone route with this sharp, political thriller that uses dialogue as daggers.
  • Feature
  • Picture
  • Sound
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
The film is an undeniably solid piece of work from Ron Howard.
It's hard to say what exactly is "bad". If I have to come up with something, then I will say it was not the best picture I saw in 2008.
Ron Howard is a filmmaker that I admire and respect, which is why I hate to admit that his films are predictable. It seems like every year Howard and Brian Grazer collaborate on an inspirational drama intended to appeal to super mass audiences clamoring for familiar faces, powerful accompaniment, and a simple storyline. Hey, not that there is anything wrong with that. I happen to like Howard and what he does for Hollywood. However, I've had this secret wish to see the man do something a little edgier and a little less touchy-feely than his expected generic dramas. This is one of the many reasons I appreciated Frost/Nixon, Ron Howard's foray into political controversy.

Frost/Nixon is based on the critically-acclaimed play starring Frank Langella and Michael Sheen. There was a lot of talk as to which Hollywood player would tackle the role of Richard Nixon, which included Jack Nicholson, until the wise decision was reached that the stage actors should reprise their roles on screen. Therefore, Frank Langella and Michael Sheen reprise their roles of Richard Nixon and David Frost respectively. Based on the true story, David Frost is a British television personality whose dimming star has forced him to move his variety show to Australia. The toothy talk show host brings a nice serving of cheese and charisma to every episode, but realizes he needs something big as a means of making a comeback. Being that the era is post-Watergate, he collaborates with producer/friend John Burt (Matthew Macfadyen), liberal author James Reston Jr. (Sam Rockwell), and television reporter Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt) to land the first exclusive interview with former US president Richard Nixon since the Watergate scandal.

Of course this is not to be just any old interview. This is to be the interview that the world will never forget. With his reputation and career at stake, Frost ups the ante by paying Nixon $600,000 for the interview with the assumption that a major network will pay top dollar for the material. Sadly none of the networks take the bait prior to the interview as they do not see the significance in sitting down with Nixon. What could possibly make it worth their money unless Tricky Dick admits his wrongdoings for America to see? This is precisely what Frost and his crack team of researchers strive to achieve. While the liberal television gang plans questions that go for the jugular, Nixon himself realizes Frost's capability to vilify him and attempts to use the interview as an outlet for making the country sympathize with him rather than see him as a bad man. And so, the battle begins!

Frost/Nixon is a very talky film with at least half of the runtime devoted to the actual sit-down tapings between David Frost and Richard Nixon. But believe it or not it is these scenes that make Frost/Nixon one of the most intense, taut films to come out of 2008. Frost/Nixon could best be described as an incredible boxing movie with intellect substituted for fists. During the interview scenes, my heart rate actually increased. In one corner there is David Frost, a man who could lose it all if he somehow does not make his interview historical by putting the former president on the spot. Then there is Nixon in the other corner whose reputation is also on the line, and who defends himself by spinning questions and rambling on like an old man until Frost backs down with intimidation.

The smartest choice of the film has to be the casting choice of Frank Langella and Michael Sheen. Theater veteran Langella has always been a towering presence on stage and screen, and it is a wonder how a man of such stature was chosen to play Richard Nixon. He proves he is the man for the job by becoming the late president so much that we forget this is the same man who played Skeletor in Masters of the Universe. I recently watched Oliver Stone's Nixon on DVD and thought Anthony Hopkins had the mannerisms of Richard Nixon down to a T until seeing Langella embrace the role. Michael Sheen is also a wondrous presence here. When we first meet David Frost, we see a man with confidence and c*ckiness, which is not so much of a challenge to play. It is when Frost realizes everything he could lose over this interview that Sheen spirals his character into a whirlwind of panic and uncertainty. Both actors present their characters as men with drastic needs. While one's political leanings will possibly place he or she in the corner of one man, both of them admittedly show sides with which the audience can empathize.
They really keep it classy with the extras. There is a handful of selections and they are not just mindless filler. There is a standard "making-of" feature that stays away from being EPK fluff and truly focuses on speaking with the filmmakers and actors about the creation of the film from start to finish. One unsurprising thing we learn is that Frank Langella stayed in character on the set and asked everyone to call him Mr. President. The full interview is available on DVD and I wish Universal were so gracious to include it. However, we do get a 7-minute nugget of footage featuring the important bits. Another neat piece of bonus material is a short doc*mentary about the Nixon Library. Finally, there is a commentary track done by director Ron Howard. Howard is a notoriously outgoing guy, and he remains this way providing commentary. He always has something to say about every scene and seems very enthusiastic about sitting through his own film for observation.
Widescreen. Ron Howard has never really strayed away from prolific filmmaking. His style is straightforward and rarely experimental. However, of all his films, this one seems the most unique in that he focuses on the intensity of dialogue rather than a fast-moving plot.
5.1 Surround. The sound here is excellent because this is a film that asks its audience to listen. I found myself gripping onto every word.
The film comes in standard case and includes some of the original poster art illustrating Langella and Sheen.
It is no surprise that Frost/Nixon received a Best Picture nomination. Ron Howard goes the Oliver Stone route with this sharp, political thriller that uses dialogue as daggers. While I cannot use Peter Morgan's play as a basis of comparison, I can say that the film is extremely well done standing by itself. With standout performances and some impressive choices from Ron Howard behind the camera, this is a film that shouldn't be missed.

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