Saturday, August 6, 2011

Frost/Nixon (2008)

A Spectacular Sheen Vs An Overpraised Langella

- Although many internet film buffs like to berate Ron Howard, he seems to have a good standing in Hollywood and I think he has made some fantastic films. Frost/Nixon (2008) is easily one of Howard's greatest films (my favorite of his is still Cinderella Man (2005)) with great performances and atmosphere.

Michael Sheen stars in Frost/Nixon as playboy British talk-show host David Frost, who during a slump in his career risks all he has for an in-depth interview with recently resigned (and pardoned) United States President Richard Nixon, played by Frank Langella. A lot is at stake as Frost scrambles to finance the interview and his team tries to get a confession of wrongdoing from the former President.

Howard forms a thriller out of a film about an interview - which is no small feat. Certainly not historically sound (here and here), the audience easily invests themselves into the interview that screenwriter Peter Morgan and director Howard present, not because the film is successful in portraying Nixon's crime as wounding the nation (it feels like the film is a self-congratulating media love-fest, setting up a RIGHT versus LEFT battle and in which people are just trying to "get" Nixon because he is Nixon) but because the cinematic themes and ideas of justice and morality apply well in exposing Nixon's wrongdoing. The cast is also excellent and crucial to the effectiveness of the story - Michael Sheen is brilliant and the film's absolute highlight while Matthew Macfadyen, Sam Rockwell, and Oliver Platt also give great supporting performances.

Frost/Nixon has received a lot of critical acclaim overall but Frank Langella has been singled out as one of the best aspects about the film. However, I disagree - I will even go as far as saying that Langella is the film's weakest link. His performance is completely transparent, looking less like Langella is channeling Nixon and more like Langella is doing a slightly amusing Nixon impression - never was I feeling like I was actually watching Nixon in the film. Langella is nothing like the real Nixon. Seeing the real tapes makes you wonder what Langella was even thinking. One feels no empathy towards the real Nixon in the real tapes; he is completely detached and looking like he is just trying to weasel his way through the interview. Sure, Langella's portrayal is more dramatic and makes the character far more interesting and depth-filled; but, in turn, the character is now so far removed from reality that it hurts the believability factor of the film.

Still, I thought Frost/Nixon was a beautifully crafted film with an incredible Michael Sheen performance, despite the over-hyped performance from Langella.

CBC Rating: 8/10

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