At the very least, Frost/Nixon doesn’t demonize former President Richard Nixon. He has a sense of humor, however weird and twisted, that makes him something more than the President behind Watergate.
As Nixon (Frank Langella) walks out of a failed speaking gig, he begins to question his upcoming interview with David Frost (Michael Sheen). His bodyguard, Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon) reassures him as any close friend would.
Nixon turns around and says that he should call in his Cuban CIA agents to spy on Frost just in case, and pulls out a notepad to see if he has a number in his contacts. Brennan actually has to stop and think if Nixon is serious.
It is funny on multiple levels because it says something about Nixon’s former behavior if someone that close thinks that could be a serious threat and it shows the President has a sense of humor about his failed presidency. It is easy to make jokes about Nixon; it is not as easy to make them as Nixon.
That’s a small moment in a film otherwise dominated by Langella and Sheen face to face. These are two capable actors who push out a tense, dramatic story out of a relatively small event in political history.
Director Ron Howard wisely spills details in brief flash forward interviews to fill in character holes, keep the audience up to speed, and maintain flow. The first hour, despite being little more than a character building exercise, is still gripping. Inexperienced Frost ends up in deep financial trouble as no one takes his attempt to interview the President seriously, while a smug Nixon doesn’t see the man as a threat.
The second hour is dominated by the two leads, under hot lights, with the interview turning into (as stated in the film) “a boxing match.” The use of focused lighting doesn’t let anything through other than the actors faces, and the close-ups capture emotion and dread as the two consistently one up the other.
Screenwriter Peter Morgan makes one miscalculation, a late night phone call from a drunken Nixon to Frost a day before the final interview. Not only is it untrue, it is a seriously misguided attempt to ramp up drama before the final questions are asked, and make little sense in terms of Nixon’s on-screen character. It cheaply manipulates the audience into believing this was the source of Frost’s sudden interest to truly take notice of his opportunity.
For a true story to succeed, you need to buy into the actors, particularly in the case of Nixon. Langella becomes invisible on screen; he is Nixon. The tension in that small room during the final hours of interviews would not have worked if Langella failed, or even for that matter Sheen. Combined with Howard’s direction, not only do they succeed, they are arguably more involving than the actual interview. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]
Everything about the chosen video style is overdone, and the codec handles it as well as it can. Blacks leads to extensive crush, whites run hot, and colors saturated nearly to the breaking point. That said, this VC-1 encode holds up nicely in terms of depth and detail, bringing out minute textures on the actors faces during the interview.
Excluding the intentional noise during the brief flash forward interviews, a few scenes unintentionally distract. Whites suffer from noise at the 16:28 and 79 minute markers. These spots are brief however. Sharpness never falters, and the grain structure is steady. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]
A DTS-HD track does little to enhance such a dialogue driven film. Surrounds are dead for much of the film, as are the stereo channels. Two moments at an airport are the only notable ones in terms of surround use as planes take off (or land depending on how you view it). Dialogue is crisp, fine, and consistently audible without adjustment. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Audio]
Ron Howard goes solo for a commentary, followed by a series of deleted scenes that last just over a half hour. Discovering Secrets is a discussion of the actors and the people they play. A general making of runs for 22 minutes, which include Howard’s inspiration for taking this story. The Real Interview is a comparison of the actual events and the film’s spin. The Nixon Library is a brief tour of what Nixon left behind.
Two U-Control features are (always) annoying to use, both of which focus on actual people, places, and things featured in the film. Interview clips are inserted during the first pop-up track. Generic BD-Live support follows. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Extras]