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USA 2008
Directed by
Ron Howard
122 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars


Synopsis: It is 1974 and British chat show host, David Frost (Michael Sheen), is struggling to keep alive a waning career. When Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) delivers his resignation speech in August Frost realises that an interview with him would draw millions of viewers. It’s a long-shot but Frost gets Nixon to agree, but is it a coup or a coup-de-grace for his showbiz reputation?

A series of interviews held over 34 years ago by a now-largely forgotten TV personality and a notoriously unpersonable America President hardly seem like promising material for a feature film and, even more, an unlikely one for Ron Howard, a director known for his mainstream crowd-pleasers, but Frost/Nixon is a fine achievement, a first-class “political” drama and one of the strongest American films of the year.

A gripping portrait of the main protagonists, the greatest strength of the film is the outstanding script by Peter Morgan who adapted his own play for the big screen. His dramatisation of the, in-themselves relatively banal, events is brilliant whilst his account of both men is both multi-faceted and insightful. As is so often the case, the fact that the core text had a considerable stage life prior to being filmed no doubt honed the quality of the writing whilst the fact that Sheen and Langella were reprising their stage performances further strengthens the dramatic conviction. Langella gives what is certainly the performance of his career to date, whilst Sheen, although rather disconcertingly looking like a young Jack Nicholson, is equally as good. The support cast, which includes Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt, and Toby Jones add to the enjoyment. Speaking of which, Australian audiences have a bonus in the fact that the early stages of the film covers Frost’s flagging career in the early 70s when he apparently hosted a talk show for what was then known as GTV 9. Clearly the film-makers considered this as of peripheral interest as not only do we get a floor manager with a fake-Strine accent but Frost is shown in front of the Sydney Opera House with the “Toaster” buildings, which were not built until two decades later, to his right,

The film is slow to build and, particularly where Nixon is concerned, tends to attribute some rather obviously, near comically, negative right-wing traits to the former President, but as it progresses the tension mounts and the main subject-matter, the unfolding of the interviews themselves, is gripping stuff. Although the film tends to too obviously signal its dramatic points, once again in the early stages, for the most part the skilful direction is professionally transparent, giving full rein to the performances.

If there is one criticism it is of the only female character of note, Caroline Cushing, played by Rebecca Hall. It is hard to believe that she was part of the original stage play, for though the film, rather unfairly, toys with the audience as to her possible significance in the scheme of things, in sum she appears to have no purpose other than as eye candy and, pleasing as Ms Hall is in this respect, this is a trivializing inclusion in what is otherwise a demanding and rewarding film.

FYI: The crucial Watergate interview is available on DVD as The Frost Nixon Watergate Interview. It also includes a present-day interview featurette in which Sir David Frost recalls the experience of interviewing Nixon.




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