Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Two Men and an Interview

Ron Howard isn't the kind of director that people really call "great." He's got some wonderful movies--Apollo 13, Parenthood, Backdraft, Cinderella Man--but most people don't really think of those as Ron Howard movies. I think maybe now we should step up and give Howard some love because Frost/Nixon is another great movie that is intense and lovely to watch. Like most of Howard's movies, this is an actor's movie with engaging scenes and impeccable performances.

At its core, the film is about two men trying to be better than they are. David Frost (Michael Sheen) is a famous TV personality who saw the Nixon interviews as a way to get great ratings and catapult his career in the US. Richard Nixon (Frank Langella)...well, we all know about Nixon, so I'm not going to waste your time. These two men, trying to be better than they are, clash like red and orange stripes on a shirt. That's what makes the film so solid--not really the historical significance, but the sheer energy pouring off these men as they sit a few feet from each other trying to make the other man break and admit defeat.

It's been a long time since I've found myself literally on the edge of my seat waiting for a man to ask another man a simple question in a movie, and this year, I get it twice. First with Slumdog Millionaire, and then again with Frost/Nixon. Though, unlike Slumdog, where I really didn't know the outcome, I knew how Frost/Nixon was going to go. It is definitely the beauty of good filmmaking--when you know how things will come out, yet you still find yourself fully invested in the story.

The supporting cast, who are truly that, have no weak spots. To me, Kevin Bacon was the strongest, but Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt (oh, I love Oliver Platt!) and Matthew MacFadyen definitely stepped up to make their small roles strong ones.

Michael Sheen is outstanding. He plays Frost with equal parts confident playboy and scared schoolboy charm. My favorite scene is not between him and Langella, but with Rockwell, Platt, and MacFadyen. The three men are berating Frost's terrible showing in an interview, but Frost just wants to go out and celebrate his birthday. Watching him struggle with the defeat of the interview process yet still trying to keep on his party face is just incredible acting, plain and simple.

Frank Langella, in my humble opinion, really looks nothing like Richard Nixon. Except in this movie, everything he did--his demeanor, his speech--made him the spitting image of the late president. His entire performance, especially during those infamous uncomfortable close-ups from the interviews, is incredible. Not to take any credit away from Michael Sheen's wonderful turn as David Frost, but Langella blew me out of the water.

Frost/Nixon is intense and truly entertaining. It may not be exactly what you'd call historically accurate, but that may be the appeal. If you want to see the real interviews, they're available for rent or purchase. But if you're looking for something that will keep you engaged and at the edge of your seat, this drama is the way to go. It definitely makes my top ten best movies of the year.

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