Not knowing much about that period in history, I didn’t have high hopes for my enjoyment of Frost/Nixon. How wrong I was! I watched it for the first time when my standard movie fodder was romcoms (don’t judge me!). I was getting a regular film education from my parents, so I wan’t completely unaware. It just wasn’t something I would have usually chosen. But it got good reviews, so who was I to refuse?
As is relatively popular at the moment, Frost/Nixon retells an important point in history. President Nixon (Frank Langella) has resigned because of the Watergate Scandal and has been living a life away from the private eye. David Frost (Michael Sheen) is a British talk show host, not known for his depth or seriousness. In an attempt to be taken more seriously, Frost pitches a series of exclusive interviews to Nixon (they would be his first since his resignation), to which Nixon agrees, believing he will be able to twist the questions so he can answer what he wants to answer to redeem himself. As everyone associated with the interviews doubts the interviewer’s ability to give Nixon the ‘trial he never had’, Frost surprises everyone.
The film was originally a show in the West End and featured both Sheen and Langella as the leads. Their deep understanding of the roles and how to play off each other clearly come out in this film. Langella plays Nixon with commanding subtlety, his Nixon has clearly owned every room he has been in since before he was President and obviously expects to do it here too. His Nixon has such conviction that what he did wasn’t wrong, wasn’t illegal (“I’m saying that when the President does it, that means it’s not illegal!”). But it is this conviction that is his downfall and Langella plays that beautifully, being caught out by the man he least expected.
But is is not just Langella who shines here. This is the film that introduced me to my favourite actor – Michael Sheen (who I used to mistake for Martin Sheen, also incredible). Yes, I had seen Sheen before, in Twilight (I said, don’t judge me!), but it was here that I loved him. He was here what made the story real for me. Incredibly convincing as the fluffy chat show host who wants to make it big, but has rarely done any work before. Sheen doesn’t try to make Frost sympathetic, clearly expecting everyone around him to do most of the work so he can just turn up on the day. And that is what he does. or that is what he does until the penultimate day of shooting. Tired of being beaten about by Nixon, Sheen’s Frost suddenly becomes motivated. It is not for the good of the American people, but for Frost’s own selfish means (he realises how much he stands to lose if he doesn’t get one tiny scoop) and Sheen plays this wonderfully (and leads you to wondering if Frost does have a conscience after all).
It is, after all, a character driven piece. Very talky, yes. But very brilliant too. I am terribly interested in modern history (the Tudors are so in the past), so this film was right up my street. But it didn’t just teach me about Watergate. It taught me to branch out, to watch things I wouldn’t have thought about before. And that is a lesson I am glad to learn.