Frost/Nixon Review

Although now known to a whole generation of UK TV viewers as the lovably sardonic host of Through the Keyhole, the defining moment of David Frost’s career will always be the 1977 interview with Richard Nixon that made journalistic history by eliciting an iconic moment of contrition from a notoriously impertinent fallen leader. Compulsive biodrama writer Peter Morgan turned the story of how this interview came to be into a successful play in 2006, which has now been given the Hollywood treatment by Ron Howard: king of the misty-eyed biopic. Michael Sheen and Frank Langella reprise their roles from the play and, while they couldn’t be more physically distinguishable from their real life subjects, provided completely believable and rounded character portrayals of the men. Howard’s film is riveting in the first hour when it is setting up mock docu-interviews with the men working behind the scenes in Frost and Nixon’s camps, along with the dramatisation of the technical and financial preparations needed to handle a man who has evaded blame for a series of corruption charges.

It loses steam in the second hour when the focus switches to the recording of the interview itself. This is when the boxing metaphor really comes to the forefront and the narrative takes on a more generic “underdog” structure, where a naive interviewer battles it out with a fiercely duplicitous opponent and defies the odds to forge victory in the face of adversity (If you’ve seen any sports film, you know the drill). It’s as subtle as a hook to the mush, there’s a montage in the final act where Frost – reinvigorated by a call to arms from Nixon – starts researching his subject afresh that is so obvious in its intentions that it really should’ve had The Eye of the Tiger playing over it. This sort of “big stakes” tone is appropriate for a film like Apollo 13 because no matter how you spin the real events, they will always be about life and death. No matter how you spin a boxing match, the combatants are always risking their lives in that ring. The Nixon interview never had these stakes, worst case scenario was that Nixon would‘ve taken the money and revealed nothing, and Frost’s career would take a hit. In the film, Frost is putting his entire financial security on the line by risking millions of pounds of debt, is the story of the real interview so dull that Morgan and Howard had to result to such uninspiring melodrama? Regardless of my disappointment in that, Frost/Nixon remains an engaging biopic and easily the best thing Howard has produced since Hanks told Huston he had a problem!

The Disc: A cracking hi-def transfer and solid DTS-HD audio are joined by a short but worthwhile selection of extras. Deleted scenes last over half an hour and there’s an involving Making Of that’s just under 25 minutes – not to mention an enthusiastic technical audio commentary from Ron Howard. The rest of the featurettes are distinctly shorter, but still manage to contain a lot of information. As this is a Universal disc there’s also some interesting interactive extra footage in the form of the U-Control feature.

Note: I should point out that the disc kept crashing my computer whenever I tried to play it in PowerDVD v8, so there may be some authoring issues with some PC setups. It played fine in my Sony S350 BD player.


Updated: May 20, 2009

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