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Reel Critic:

‘Nixon’ film is awfully frosty

December 10, 2008|By Bob Harris

I like Ron Howard’s films, but I can’t say I love or hate them, and his latest film, “Frost/Nixon” is no exception.

Adapted by Peter Morgan from his own award-winning play of the same name, “Frost/Nixon” is set around the series of interviews that took place in 1977 between David Frost and the disgraced former President Richard Nixon.

That the results are intriguing, but ultimately lukewarm is of little surprise.

It’s August 1974, and Nixon (Frank Langella), the 37th president of the United States, has just resigned his office following the ongoing Watergate scandal. A talk-show host, Frost (Michael Sheen), watches the resignation speech wondering not about the political implications, but the number of viewers tuning in.

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Later, in exile on the West Coast, Nixon is looking to sell his story to the highest bidder with the help of legendary agent Swifty Lazar (Toby Jones).

As it turns out, Frost is the man holding the check with the most zeros on it. This sets up a televised showdown between a disgraced and despised ex-president looking for political resurrection and a fluffy talk-show host seeking gravitas (and huge TV ratings.)

I haven’t seen the play, but I’m guessing it has been opened up significantly with a number of characters added to the mix. Langella recreates his Tony Award-winning role as Nixon, a sad, tragic figure of Shakespearean proportions. Langella, besides a distinct hair cut, slumped shoulders and a deep voice, doesn’t try to ape Nixon’s look or mannerisms. This is a performance, not an impersonation. Sheen recreates his role from the play as well as the ever shiny Frost. He hides a sharp mind and a driving ambition behind an always-at-the-ready, million-dollar smile. Like Langella, Sheen’s Frost is a performance and not an impersonation. And, like Langella, it is a sharp performance. It’s a shame the film isn’t as the title suggests, just “Frost/Nixon,” as they are the only two characters of any real interest.

“Frost/Nixon” is a straight-forward and overly descriptive film. Few moments pass that the filmmakers don’t stop to make their point perfectly clear with an exclamation point.

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