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Sunday, 18 January 2009

Frost / Nixon

After resigning in disgrace in 1974, former US President Nixon moved to California and did a whole lot of not much. While America cried out for an apology or even an explanation, Nixon kept silent, hoping the Watergate scandal would blow over and he could eventually start to rebuild his political career. Then lightweight UK chat show host David Frost stepped up with an unique offer: a series of one-on-one television interviews covering a wide range of topics, put together independently by Frost and on-sold to the networks. Nixon and his advisers jumped at the chance, believing Frost to be a lightweight they could easily control and the resulting interviews the perfect way to rehabilitate his reputation. It's prime material for a drama and Frost / Nixon doesn't miss a beat. Based on Peter Morgan's play, Ron Howard's film opens up the material slightly and turns the first half into a globe-trotting experience but retains the core of the original: the clash between Frost (Michael Sheen) and Nixon (Frank Langella) in a house in a California suburb in front of a bunch of television cameras. And there's a lot at stake here: if Nixon has his way, he'll be able to recast himself as a statesman betrayed by others, a man who deserves yet another chance. For Frost, the interviews are his big chance to make it in America, which is why he's put himself in debt way over his head. But as the film progresses it's clear that for all the stakes at play in the background, this is a clash of wills between two men - one perhaps the sharpest political operation alive, the other a pretty boy interviewer who's not exactly sure he's got the depth required to pull this lion-taming act off. The result is totally compelling.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #443)