Frost/Nixon first came to my awareness ages ago strictly due to Matthew’s involvement. Frankly, at first I was not thrilled at the idea of having to sit through a political rant that took place long before I gave any thought to world affairs no matter how much I love this man! Then, over time as I read more about the story and saw the early teasers, I grew excited about the movie itself. By the time the lights dimmed this past Friday I was as equally enthusiastic to see Matthew as to get the full story of how the interviews unfolded. Happily, Ron Howard so adeptly wove the tale that I more often had to force myself to remember to gaze upon Matthew then to pay attention to the plot. I truly was hooked!
It is filmed with portions in a quasi-documentary style as the secondary characters are questioned about their roles and motivations in the interview between David Frost and Richard Nixon. These short snippets are seamlessly intermixed with the main drama as we are given a short history lesson on Watergate, learn how the idea is birthed, and follow Frost and his team as they bring it all together. The larger concentration is on Frost’s side of events, but quality time is spent with Nixon and his handlers. The tragic ex-President is given a fair representation, his humanity and warmth and sadness conveyed sympathetically. The historical facts are dramatized, of course, and the story told with the appropriate build-up of tension and mystery. By the time we reached the interview itself and the climatic ‘confession’ of Nixon, I was on the edge of my seat. I did not know precisely what happened, what Nixon said, what the aftermath was, and I held my breath the entire time! Needless to say, it is brilliantly done.
Michael Sheen, as David Frost, is terrific. I honestly have no memory of what David Frost was truly like (or Richard Nixon for that matter), so can’t say he nailed the man. However, I do not think that really matters. Nor is it really important that Frank Langella look or act precisely like Nixon. It is the story that counts and these two men do an excellent job. Of the two, Langella steals the show. If he does not at least receive an Oscar nomination I will be shocked. He truly is that extraordinary.
The secondary characters, played giftedly by Matthew, Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, and Oliver Platt are prominent and very important to the overall account, but it is not their story. What this means is that other than a few tidbits of info as to their individual incentives and a couple dramatic moments scattered here and there, we never learn much about them, and they do not shine. Of course, as an ardent Matthew Macfadyen fan who would love to see him break out in an Oscar-worthy scene I was disappointed in this. Yet, I comprehend that this particular movie is centered on Frost and Nixon. That, however, is not to say that they performed inadequately! Kevin has a very moving scene with Langella, Oliver brings his typical sarcastic humor to the mix, Sam is intensity personified, and Matthew is competence and class.
In the final analysis I conclude that this is a solid movie. Other than Langella, I do not think it will rock anyone’s world or sweep the awards. I would be very surprised. Howard has certainly done much better, but he recounts this slice of American history with the subtle touch he is known for. I am very happy to have seen this movie, and thankful that Mathew’s addition encouraged me to pay attention when I probably would not have. Is it a must-see in the theater? Well, no. I would have to confess that waiting until next year for the DVD rental is fine. But, maybe after Twilight and Australia, if you are still in the mood for a gripping, intriguing flick, then Frost/Nixon is not a waste of your time and money.
Now, for the serious Matthew fan this is an entirely different matter! As I said, Matthew does nothing that could be construed as stunning in his role as John Birt. However, he is in probably 80% of the scenes! And he always looks amazing in his suits and sweaters! His part is pivotal as Frost’s producer and leader of the team that brings it all together. Matthew’s notable gravitas, stature, baritone resonance, refinement, and composure lent a valuable seriousness to the movie. For what he was given, for what he was supposed to do, he was terrific. And, since I know you are all dying to hear it and have probably skimmed through to see if I mention it, yes, The Scene is there! Matthew, as John Birt supposedly did in his ecstatic triumph over the successful interviews, does strip naked and dash into the waves. To our delight The Scene was not as brief as feared, was quite close up, and indeed, he is bare-assed, buck-naked, in all his glory, etc. If that isn’t motivation to plop down $10, I don’t know what else to say!