Review by Jack Foley
THE historic encounter between disgraced former US President Richard Nixon and jet-setting TV personality David Frost has already proved a massive hit on the stage and now looks certain to repeat the trick in movie form.
Frank Langella and Michael Sheen reprise their roles for the tense battle of wits, while Ron Howard directs with a few extra Hollywood trappings.
By tracing some of the build-up to the interviews, the film gives us a little more insight into the personalities of both men, as well as some of the key players that helped behind-the-scenes, ensuring that their riveting final encounter is both thrilling and unexpectedly moving in equal measure.
It’s the classic David and Goliath battle, of course, embellished somewhat for the purposes of cinema entertainment. Sheen’s Frost is viewed as having a lot more to lose, and is probably more cavalier than his real-life counterpart, for example.
But in the hands of two such skillful actors, they represent a fascinating couple of prize-fighters. Langella, in particular, injects plenty of complexity into Nixon, drawing on elements of self-loathing and an outsider quality that makes his ambition all the more ruthless.
There’s strong support, too, from Kevin Bacon, as a White House aide, and Sam Rockwell and Oliver Platt, as two of Frost’s researchers… while the rapidly emerging Rebecca Hall also gives terrific value as Frost’s latest love interest.
Howard mixes humour with dramatic tension well and recreates the period in typically eye-catching detail. His film looks great and fairly zips along, even at a little over two hours.
And when the big moment finally arrives during their final winner takes all interview, no one fluffs their lines. It’s as tense as we’d expect, even though history has already informed us of the outcome (think Tom Cruise versus Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men for spine-tingling effect).
Having taken us to such an exhilarating high, however, Howard then allows a few quieter moments to consider the outcome and its repercussions for both men, drawing the film to a thoughtful, even poignant, close.
Frost/Nixon is a powerful political drama that can – and should – be enjoyed by everyone, no matter what grasp they have on the history of the time. It’s captivating cinema, powered by two terrific performances.
Running time: 122mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: May 18, 2009
- Read our review
- Michael Sheen interview
- Frank Langella interview
- Ron Howard interview
- View photos from the UK premiere