Stage plays often convert beautifully to film while others have nothing added by the more flexible motion picture format. I wondered how Frost/Nixon, covering the 1977 interviews between British entertainer David Frost and former US president Richard Nixon, would have looked on stage and whether it being made into a film had improved its status at all.
Possibly to no effect, even though the film was able to add a few location shots – like Nixon’s coastal home and the sumptuous suites of the hotels where Frost (Sheen) and his research team meet to plot their strategy. The idea for Frost was to get a saleable interview of a disgraced president but his researchers wanted more – Nixon (Langella) must apologise to the American people for bringing the highest office in the land into disrepute.
I am glad Ron Howard made this film if only for the reason that millions get to see Frank Langella in the performance of his career, rather than privileged thousands who saw the man on stage. Though he appears too tall to be Nixon and doesn’t pull off the impersonation that Anthony Hopkins achieved in Oliver Stone’s Nixon, Langella is remarkable. His nuance of speech, mannerisms and dark look had me eating out of the palm of his hand by mid movie.
Sheen is a believable Frost as well, occasionally during the interview scenes capturing the perfect pitch of the unique accent so familiar to watchers of The Frost Report – part of British television history. The actor also handles the changing faces of the promoter that Frost was (is?), able to cold call anyone and everybody with bravado but shattered and lacking confidence when rebuffed from the calls.
These are about money and how Frost stumped up a lot of the cash to get the interviews taped and distributed. His own lightweight interviewing style was exposed by the clever Nixon and Frost’s growth in the final scenes is made more real as you realise this is make or break. He knew it but it took Nixon to bring it out when he tells him (in a filmed late night phone call that never really happened) that only one of them will win and the other will be resigned to ignominy – something neither man could bear thinking of.
Quality movie, undoubtedly highlighted by Langella and I anxiously await The Wrestler (Mickey Rourke) and Milk (Sean Penn) to gauge why the man who played Nixon is not regarded as having given the acting performance of the year.