It is true that a film like Frost/Nixon, based almost entirely on two people talking while seated on two chairs, should not be able to work. If they’re discussing politics as well, then there’s no way that it could ever work. If it does work, and if it keeps its audience gripped throughout, then there is some remarkable writing, directing and acting that must be involved. And if it is faithfully based on a very true story, then it just goes to show once again that reality is stranger than fiction and that filmmakers like Peter Morgan and Ron Howard need to look no further than what’s happening out in the real world in order to create a highly engaging and –most often– disturbing plot such as this one.
Adapted for the screen by the playwright himself, Peter Morgan also signs the screenplay which recreates the famous interviews between British talk-show host David Frost and former President of the United States Richard M. Nixon. The conversations took place in 1977 and although most of us know all about them, their outcome and significance on both of these people’s lives and careers, somehow the film is directed by Ron Howard in such a way that knowing what happens in the end takes away none of the suspense and surprise.
But no matter how carefully slow, evocative, cunning and tense Howard’s direction might be, it would have nothing without the brilliant performances that the two lead actors offer us. Frank Langella’s Nixon manages to persuade his audience to such an extent, that it is hard not to associate the actor to the mistrust and –in some cases—insanity that the former President has always inspired us with. He becomes one with his character, completely immerses in his subject and succeeds in embodying all the layers that made Richard M. Nixon such a complicated, sly, –very often—unreasonable, but also sad, pitiable and –in some strange way– almost charming man.
Michael Sheen is also great in the role of David Frost, lightening up the atmosphere and portraying the famous TV host in such a brilliant way that he immediately becomes the man that the audience cheers for. He’s the people’s person, the lightweight celebrity everyone can relate to, the host who needs these interviews to get his career to a higher level, while the President sees England’s sweetheart as absolutely no threat and has no problem accepting to be interviewed by him. In fact, the entire story is told from either Frost’s or an outsider’s perspective. In no way do the things revealed in the film represent Nixon’s point of view and in all ways the interviews are all about Frost pushing and Nixon stalling, before breaking.
Although the audience is no doubt on Frost’s side, viewers might, in cases, warm up to the President as well, sympathise somehow and accept his insanity without judging. It’s normal, so don’t worry if you catch yourself almost liking Nixon at moments. The reason why you might is because the two performances by Michael Sheen and Frank Langella are nothing but mind-blowing. Ron Howard’s authentic locations and suggestively dynamic direction, Peter Morgan’s incredible script, full of wit and clever lines, and this highly interesting premise and well-built plot would admittedly fall short without two actors such as Sheen and Langella. Frost/Nixon is essentially a film about two incredible actors/characters, discussing. Interviewing one another. Deceiving each other. And in the end, the better man winning.