Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA/United Kingdom/France, 2008. Universal Pictures, Imagine Entertainment, Working Title Films, StudioCanal, Relativity Media, Digital Image Associates. Screenplay by Peter Morgan, based on his play. Cinematography by Salvatore Totino. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard. Music by Hans Zimmer. Production Design by Michael Corenblith. Costume Design by Daniel Orlandi. Film Editing by Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill, Robert Komatsu. Academy Awards 2008. Golden Globe Awards 2008.
Talk show host David Frost has had success in Britain and Australia but has yet to corner the American market, making it that much more insane an idea when he decides to pack up his crew, head to California and interview American past president Richard Nixon after having briefly glimpsed his resignation on television. Frost (Michael Sheen) is seen as a soft-news bon vivant with no credibility, putting Nixon (Frank Langella) completely at ease with the idea of being interviewed by someone he doesn’t see as a “worthy adversary”. In this exciting adaptation of Peter Morgan’s play (the writer adapts it to the screen himself), we see the events leading up to the interview followed by the work itself, which doesn’t seem to be going well in the initial days: Frost is having trouble putting together the funding even after shooting has begun, and he’s been playing far too easy with Tricky Dick and letting the president, who resigned in shame and disgrace after the Watergate scandal, come off a hero. Superb performances really make this one leap off the screen, a film that doesn’t seem to be based on a play and yet thoroughly maintains the integrity of the original piece. It’s a good thing the writing is this good, actually, since director Ron Howard is skilled at guiding actors and filming even the most boring events (a two-handed conversation in a living room) with a lot of pizzazz (terrific editing keeps it bouncing the whole time), but is obviously not up to the intelligence of the material. He short-hands political information as if he were making a junior-high information film, but again Morgan’s sharp writing keeps it smart and integral the whole time. Langella and Sheen are simply outstanding, while Sam Rockwell steals scenes outright as a member of the team preparing the interviews. The film is heavily political and, most surprisingly, very moving, a hell of a lot better than Oliver Stone’s attempt to encapsulate a similar theme ever could have been.