Based on the play of the same name, this suspenseful drama recreates the legendary 1977 television interviews between disgraced President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) and tenacious British interviewer, David Frost (Michael Sheen). It’s a titanic battle-of-wills.
When Frost lost his prized interview program in America, he offered to pay the former president $600,000, plus a share of profits, for a “no-holds-barred” interview. It was a risky move. Sociable yet ambitious, Frost was known for his breezy bantering, not investigative reporting. The big networks wouldn’t make a deal without dictating the terms, and there were no guarantees that Nixon would admit to any wrongdoing. But peripatetic Frost had perseverance. By the end of 28 hours of questioning – only six of which were broadcast on independent local stations – self-sabotaging Nixon had tacitly acknowledged his role in the Watergate scandal, giving the public the catharsis they’d been craving.
Written by Peter Morgan (“The Queen”) and directed by Ron Howard (“Apollo 13,” “A Beautiful Mind”), it’s an incredible cinematic feat since the plot revolves around two power-players talking. Morgan envisions it as “an intellectual ‘Rocky,’” expanding the gripping narrative by subtly delving into both men’s revelatory backstories. Amplifying the intensity, Howard makes shrewd use of revelatory close-ups, which are not possible on-stage. And seeing Nixon’s California home, La Casa Pacifica in San Clemente, shows the loneliness of his isolation.
Recreating their Broadway roles, Frank Langella and Michael Sheen are perfectly matched sparring partners in this prime Oscar-bait match. Kevin Bacon is convincing as Nixon’s wary strategist, while Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell are memorable as Frost’s associates.
It’s a shame that the R-rating – for vulgarities – discourages curious younger viewers because on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Frost/Nixon” is a ferociously exciting 10. A must-see!