Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Frost/Nixon

The biggest problem with me watching movies on the computer is that I have access to the internet. Whenever someone mentions anything that might have a remotely interesting background, I come running to its article on Wikipedia, which further sucks me into its endless whirlpool of information.

Factoring in the distractions, it took me four hours to watch Frost/Nixon.

The movie, about a series of interviews with Richard Nixon conducted three years after he resigned as US President, appeals to people with a sense of history. I have a sense of history. Those who don't are accommodated with news clips and faux interview snippets that do their best to give an awareness of the gravity of events.

Nixon resigned amid scandal in 1974, and was promptly granted a full pardon by his successor. There was no trial, no testimony, no day in court for the legal process to get out the truth one way or another. Three years after his presidency's collapse, Nixon saw the interviews as a chance at redemption; the interviewer David Frost intended them to give Nixon the trial he never had.

It's all very fascinating, as I never heard about these interviews before. From what I've seen on YouTube, a few scenes are recreated pretty much verbatim from the actual interviews-- albeit with additional pregnant pauses for the necessary extra dramatic effect. I hate it when movies are held down by reality, but the story does take many artistic liberties with history, notably adding a completely fictional drunken late-night phone call from Nixon to Frost's hotel room on the eve of the final interview. That may be the best scene of the movie, actually. That's the scene that makes it a movie.

Speaking of taking liberties with reality, Frank Langella's performance as Nixon is something noteworthy. He doesn't look all that much like Nixon, though they got him as close as possible with the slumped shoulders, baggy cheeks, and balding head. He's got a hint of an English accent in his otherwise terrific Nixon voice. And somehow his personality has more of a warm grandfatherly affability rather than the gruffness I'd expect. But despite all of these deviations he does a great job, and his Nixon is a character that's actually remarkable in its own right.

This movie was directed by Ron Howard, who has found his greatest successes in adapting other historical events and lives into dramas (see Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man). His style is careful and measured, respectful to the source material, with no missteps. The subject matter is really absorbing, at least to me, and all the while I'm wondering how much of it is based on reality. I'm guessing quite a great deal of it, considering how politely it's all presented.

Maybe too politely presented, in fact. It hits all the right notes, but not as hard as it could have. It's hard to tell whether this is due to a lack of conviction or due to a reverence for impartiality. There's no denying that it's a good movie though, I'd give it that.

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