In Ã¢â‚¬ËœFrost/NixonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, the latest period drama from Ron Howard, Frank LangellaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Richard Nixon and Michael SheenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s David Frost square off in a boxing match of words. Back and forth they go like some, clichÃƒ ©d fight from Ã¢â‚¬ËœRockyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, Nixon pounding Frost into near submission only to have the underdog come back at the very last minute. I havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t seen the actual taped interviews Frost conducted with Nixon, so how accurate this beat-down and comeback are is lost on me, but Ã¢â‚¬ËœFrost/NixonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ is a film that succeeds in telling a story that was nearly lost in the seas of history. It does this despite its structure and conventional screenplay.
While the interviews are the main focus of the film, Frost and Nixon donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t sit down face-to-face until right about the halfway point. The first half of Ã¢â‚¬ËœFrost/NixonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ is all about the research, the near-crusade Frost had to go on just to make the interview happen, and NixonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s avoidance at facing any hard questions about Watergate or his resignation. In this first half we get to know FrostÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s team, made up of James Reston, Jr. (Sam Rockwell), Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt), and John Brit (Matthew Macfadyen). We really donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t care much about these characters.
Howard attempts to construct this part of the film like a pseudo-documentary, cutting to floating head interviews with these actors portraying these characters talking to the camera about what was happening in the lead up to the Nixon interviews. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an aspect of the film that is completely superfluous. Most of the time the floating heads aspect of the film just serve to reiterate something we have either already seen or are about to see. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s really an amateur style to bring to a drama such as this, something that is amazing to see in a film by a man who has directed nearly 30 films and won an Oscar for his craft.
What makes this documentary style work even less is in the screenplay. Written by Peter Morgan, and, with the help of HowardÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s directing style, the acting seems like acting. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s nothing naturalistic about anyoneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s performance. Not even Langella, who still succeeds in giving a magnum opus of a performance, but weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll get to that in due time. If the film had to incorporate this documentary feel to it, an Altman approach would have been the best way to do it. Let the actors talk over one another. Let us only get every other line of dialogue. Let us feel like we are watching these events actually happen before our very eyes by making it all not so clean. Aronofsky pulled this off magically with Ã¢â‚¬ËœThe WrestlerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. In Ã¢â‚¬ËœFrost/NixonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, everything is pieced together much too neatly for the film to ever live up to the style Howard set forth for it.
Once Sheen and Langella sit down to do the interviews, though, the film really kicks into high gear. The film still cuts back to those floating head interviews now and again, but they are completely overshadowed by the central players.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœFrost/NixonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ is based on a stage play of the same name, and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a story that is probably best served in seeing it in that format. Seeing these actors go at it up on the big screen is about as removed from the story as you can get. The best bet in watching Ã¢â‚¬ËœFrost/NixonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ is to watch it on the small screen, as if you were reliving what much of America saw when the interviews were first seen. Despite this, the film, particularly the back-and-forth nature of the actual interviews, is pretty intense. This is made possible by the incredible performances between the filmÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s two leads.
Sheen is good. He projects just the right amount of sleaze to get the characteristics of David Frost on screen, but he never comes off as unlikable.
But Sheen could have been channeling Olivier and not hold a candle to LangellaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s performance as Nixon. The actor embodies the character with everything fiber in his abilities. Sure, he has the growl and hunched over look, and those alone might make the performance come off as an impersonation, but Langella does more than that. He has the voice. He has the appeal. There are times where the man even looks like Nixon in the face. But it is even more than being Nixon that Langella does well here. He plays this part of a man who, at first, is in clear control of a situation only to have that situation turn on him in an instant perfectly. Smug at first and worried after, Langella cruises through this range of emotions effortlessly. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve never seen an actor be able to sweat on command, but, unless Howard threw in some clever CG, Langella does just that.
‘Frost/NixonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ is undeniably compelling storytelling. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a story that is considered pretty much a footnote in American history, but that fact is amazing when you look at the players involved. The way the film plays out could have been better. Ron Howard doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t live up to his typical directing standards with the filmÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s structure and overall format. Regardless, the powerful performances above all else makes this a worthwhile film.
[Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5]