The story of the battle of wills between the world’s most powerful man, Richard Nixon, and the journalist who attempted to extract the truth behind the most famous political scandal of all time.
A greed-and-glory-fuelled arm wrestle between two alpha-males struggling with their own limitations, lies at the centre of Frost/Nixon; director Ron Howard’s supremely confident and compelling version of one of the most celebrated moments in television history.
Though he struggles inwardly with the stigma of being ousted from the Oval Office, Frank Langella’s Richard Nixon is a man who won’t let the air of presidential impenetrability and hubristic entitlement desert him. Michael Sheen’s David Frost is an egotist and showman, a man for whom the symbolic trophy of snaring the first interview with Nixon post-impeachment is far more important than the breadth of responsibility it carries with it.
In constructing the interview scenario, Howard portrays both men as opportunists. Frost wants to break free of his shallow chat show host image; Nixon, urged on by his Hollywood agent 'Swifty’ Lazarr (Toby Jones), sees dollar signs and a bridge to repair the American public’s image of him as the country’s most famous crook.
Each man has their own team of guardian angels that act to steer their fate. Television producer Matthew McFadyen, political analyst Sam Rockwell and broadcast journalist Oliver Platt are the voices inside David Frost’s head that he largely ignores until it is almost too late to save his career; personal aide Kevin Bacon is the square-jawed backbone that looks out for Nixon and America, when the ex-President’s ego betrays his actions.
Ron Howard has finally shown enough maturity as a filmmaker to divest himself and his film of any sentimental denouement. Even his most celebrated works in recent years (A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man) have settled for cloyingly sweet final acts. His best film to this point, The Missing with Cate Blanchett, showed an edgier Howard, not afraid to accept that stories doesn’t always need happy endings to be resonant and satisfying.
Frost/Nixon explores the role that television played at the height of its power in shaping a nation\'s opinion (Sam Rockwell’s final speech about \"The power of the close-up" spells that out, perhaps a little too clearly). But the strength of the film is in the performances of an Oscar-nominated Langella, who is majestic, frightening and pitiful as the disgraced Commander In Chief; and the mouse-like Sheen, whose crumbling, bumbling yet triumphant Frost presents as fine a character arc as you’ll see in any movie.
Slick, smart, superb American filmmaking.