(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Ron Howard tells the story of how a British comedian became the man who interviewed the resigned President Richard Nixon to get from him admissions that he never wanted to make in front of the country. While the main character is Michael Sheen's David Frost, Frank Langella is fascinating as the cold and withdrawn Richard Nixon. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

There is an old question of which would the best swordsman in France more fear to fight, the second best swordsman or the worst swordsman. The answer is that he would much more fear the latter since the worst swordsman would be unpredictable. Richard Nixon forgot that lesson if he ever knew it. Three years after he resigned the Presidency of the United States and was pardoned by succeeding President Gerald Ford the CBS television network wanted to interview him and would pay him $350,000 for the privilege. But faltering British comedian and talk show host David Frost offered more money for the interview permission. This offer was appealing for Nixon. Frost was, after all, just an amiable TV personality of apparently very ordinary intelligence well below Nixon's. Nixon's advisors told him that while CBS would throw him hardball questions, David Frost could throw him only "puffballs." Nixon decided to take the more profitable offer and went with interview by the boyish TV personality. Ron Howard's new film tells the story of how David Frost, not even an American, arranged to do the set of interviews. Frost and his staff hoped to make the interviews the trial that the American public had been denied when Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon. Nixon saw the interviews as a duel that would be fought with the unready Frost.

The film is David Frost's story with Michael Sheen (who played Tony Blair in THE QUEEN) playing Frost. He has our attention whenever Frank Langella's Richard Nixon is off the screen. But when Frank Langella is on the screen one almost forgets to notice Sheen. Langella is hypnotic. Frost risks his entire career to arrange and commit to the production of the interview only to find that the major TV networks are not interested in buying the interview. Having an affable talk show host come in and interview Nixon seemed to negate much of the point of the enterprise. Frost's search for sponsorship turns to the likes of Weed-Whacker and Alpo dog food. Nobody has faith that this production will be any more than a rehash of Nixon's already familiar arguments. And Frost himself comes to realize that he has little new to bring to the questioning.

FROST/NIXON is a study in contrasts between the two very different breeds of men. Frost is an extrovert, a man with outward polish, but even he himself cannot find a real person deep within the glossy shell. Nixon is a dark and lonely introvert. He is a man of great intellect, but he cannot connect with people. Even the people who work for Nixon, Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon) and Swifty Lazar (Toby Jones with a bizarre accent), are just the same sort of dark, cold people. Frost is the kind of man who can pick up a woman on an airplane and have a fling though the weeks of the interview process. Nixon both disapproves of and envies Frost for this ability.

One might fear that the script would not make clear how each is playing their side of the game. The film makes very clear how Nixon is playing with Frost and how Frost tries to catch him up. This is a game of Cat and Mouse with the mouse knowing that his whole career depends on him catching the cat. But the real performance is from Langella whose facial reactions when he listens are more riveting than the questions he is being asked.

Peter Morgan who wrote THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND and THE QUEEN writes the screenplay based on his own produced Broadway play. For those who fear they may not remember the important historical details Morgan starts the film with a nice little recap of the Watergate controversy to remind the audience and bring them up to speed. I rate FROST/NIXON a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper