Opie’s come a long way- he’s made some really good movies, too. But he’s never made a great one. Frost/Nixon is one of his best, but it’s still held up by Frank Langella’s performance, straight from the play it’s based on. And his attempts at driving up tension are a bit distracting from the characters, who make the film.
Michael Sheen is excellent as the interviewer who’s possibly bit off more than he can chew; I’ve only seen him in those shitty Underworld movies, so I was quite surprised. Kevin Bacon plays Nixon’s still loyal protector, and once again he shows that he shines as a flawed man or even a villain. The Woodsman. Where the Truth Lies. Sleepers. Here he’s not a child molester, just a Nixon supporter, but he plays it with equal relish.
But of course the real performance here is Frank Langella as Richard Milhous Nixon, the man who may have opened up China but whose enduring legacy will be the suffix -gate on political scandals. He may not look much like Nixon, but the voice and mannerisms are uncanny; he’s a cinch for best actor, despite Mickey Rourke probably being more deserving. The Academy likes biographical roles and they surely think Nixon is more evil than Hitler, because Hitler’s all played out.
While the infamous confession spattered all over the trailers- when Nixon said, “when the President does it, that means it’s not illegal” is not the most gripping scene or the best acting of the film. A drunken phone call to Frost where he reveals through a chink in his armor the vision of a beast nailed down in torment (thanks again, Gerald Kersh). Nixon’s inner rage, for being ugly when Kennedy was handsome, for clawing his way up from a public high school and local college when Ivy League boys run the world, and for his unlikeability hampering his political genius. That and the very end- when Frost gets in a subtle, but fatal riposte in their duel- are magnificent scenes.
But much of the rest- and anything where Langella, Sheen, or Bacon aren’t on-screen- feels like your average Ron Howard film, and far too conventional. It’s worth seeing if you enjoy a good debate and good drama- and it definitely contains some of the year’s best performances. But why dwell on a man American History will never forget, when you can get a fresh taste of ugly politics with W. or Errol Morris’s excellent documentary on Abu Ghraib, Standard Operating Procedure? Well, you might want some background on what abuses of power spring from, and that’s definitely shown here.
4 out of 5 tricky dicks.