A Warm Reception to "Frost/Nixon"

John Hanlon
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Posted: Dec 05, 2008 9:15 AM
A Warm Reception to "Frost/Nixon"

“Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty; always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”

-Richard M. Nixon,1974

William Shakespeare once wrote that “All the world’s a stage,/ And all the men and women merely players…” This all-encompassing statement is true of everyday life and common circumstances where we, as individuals, perform certain roles to the betterment of ourselves and possibly of others. Much of our lives are performed on one small stage after another in the view of few others. However, imagine if one of those stages was in the clear view of not only the American people but an extremely international audience as well. And imagine that there are only two people on the stage and that every thing that you (on that stage) say and do will be replayed time and again for historical purposes.

Such is the idea behind Ron Howard’s new motion picture “Frost/Nixon.”

The film, an adaptation of the play, recounts one of the most famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) interviews of all time. In one corner of the verbally contentious matchup was former President Richard M. Nixon, three years after his resignation from the White House. In the other corner was David Frost, a British talk show host known more for his romantic rather than interviewing, prowess. In the film, Nixon attempts to use the interviews to improve his image and Frost attempts to use them to get to know Nixon and to ultimately see if he can be the one to get the 37th President of the United States to admit guilt in the Watergate affair, the series of events that ultimately brought about Nixon’s resignation.

As with so many films based off true events, there is some elaborating in the film and editing that would make viewers question what really happened and if everyone’s motives in the film were as clear in real life, where such clear and obvious motives are hard to find. Disappointingly, one of the key scenes in the movie that sets the stage for the final interview session was completely made up. (So stated Peter Morgan, the screenwriter of the film in a panel discussion held last night at the National Geographic Society in Washington D.C. following an early screening of the movie). That provocative scene sets the stage for the ultimate climax of the movie, the interview session between Frost and Nixon that is focused on the Watergate break-in and cover-up. In that regard, the film itself is tarnished by its liberal use of the facts for storytelling purposes.

Additionally, for people who want to come into the film for an open-minded perspective on the only man who resigned from the presidency, the film will be disappointing. Although the liberal bias is less pronounced than in other political films that have come to the multiplexes in recent years, this film clearly has a liberal agenda in terms of its presentation of Nixon. As one of the characters notes, the Frost/Nixon interviews should be the trial that Nixon never had. To maximize the liberal ideology, one character blatantly notes near the end of the film that the most lasting legacy of the Nixon presidency is the fact that the names of future scandals would end with the suffix “gate” as in Watergate. Clearly for someone to say that openly in a movie without any other strong perspectives being shown notes that the people doing the movie did not want Nixon or his legacy to come off well.

Aside from the criticisms noted above, I did thoroughly enjoy the movie as a work of dramatic intention. Frank Langella is excellent in the role of Richard Nixon (a role that he has played both on screen and on stage in the original theater production of “Frost/Nixon”). Langella brings a strong intelligence and steadfastness to the role that lets viewers see a different side to President Nixon (one which might bring more sympathy to the former president, much to the detriment of the filmmakers involved who arguably shudder at the thought). The pacing of the film is well done and this will definitely be nominated for several high-profile awards in the months to come.

Ultimately the film succeeds in its overarching storyline of presenting these two competing characters battling against each other but it does have its share of faults and inaccuracies, which will hinder the historical value of it. I would recommend people see this film though for a flawed but compelling retelling of the story of the “Frost/Nixon” interviews.