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Frost/Nixon -- Fail - Riffs and Licks
Frost/Nixon -- Fail
I saw Frost/Nixon last night with rednoodlealien and doodlegoat and was rather disappointed. On its own as a film it is in some ways magnificent -- Frank Langella in particular is very good -- but fails in that it sets up a story of the callow David Frost meeting the Goliath of Richard Nixon and after three days of failing miserably, finally succeeding in getting him to make an enormous confession. But it's not clear why. A bizarre (and entirely fictional) late-night phone call from Nixon causes Frost to suddenly get serious and, over a weekend, study up enough on Watergate to go toe-to-toe with Nixon. Really? Just three days made him able to challenge one of the smartest and most devious men in history?

Meanwhile Nixon, who in the film is shown as doing these interviews for the sole purpose of rebuilding his reputation, suddenly capitulates? Why? It's utterly arbitrary and therefore unsatisfying; you cannot believe that either of these characters would have made the transition that they did. Even as a film, without reference to the history, it does not work.

As history, it's much worse. There are a few important things left out of the film. First and foremost, Nixon didn't make that admission. The transcript of the interview is shamelessly edited to almost completely reverse what Nixon actually did say, as several commentators have pointed out.

Secondly, the film is set up as a gladiatorial battle, in which only one of the two combatants can come out victorious. This is not what happened. Nixon was not only paid for the interview, he was given a sizeable cut of the profits. So it was in his considerable financial interest to make them successful. So by offering up some juicy Watergate tidbits, he gave Frost the victory he needed and ensured some financial security for himself. It was good for both of them and Peter Morgan in fact said he could have written it to have Nixon "win" with as much historical justification.

I think the thing that disturbed me most, though, was that Langella portrayed Nixon as in many ways a likeable man. He wasn't. He was nasty and vengeful and probably as close to evil as any American President has been, and to portray him as a sympathetic character is not only dishonest but disturbing.

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From: egretplume Date: March 7th, 2009 03:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Maybe Nixon doesn't seem so bad after the Bush years.

Thanks for this review. I could not fathom why they made the movie when one could just as easily watch the tapes. It's like virtualization for its own sake.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 7th, 2009 03:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Very true. As a play, it makes some sense, I suppose, although I didn't see that.

And yes, as evil and tyrannical as Nixon was, he was at least a brilliant man and a genuine statesman. When he says in the film, "If the President does it, then it's legal. That's what I believe. Of course, I realize no one else shares that view," I said aloud, "Except for Dubya." And Cheney and John Yoo and... and...
rain_herself From: rain_herself Date: March 7th, 2009 04:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
I didn't find him very likeable at all in any kind of genuine way. That was what I found so brilliant about his performance: he was personable, but every time you looked closely, you could see it was the charm of the sociopath. The evil was just under the surface the whole time.

That said, I agree that the movie wasn't all that, but I really liked Langella's performance.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 7th, 2009 06:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
I liked Langella's performance too; he was riveting. But I didn't think he was portraying Nixon, and I didn't believe the character he was portraying would have made the "confession" he's shown to make. Those are as much or more the fault of the writers and director rather than of the actor.

And no, he wasn't likable, but he was more likable than the real Nixon. He was funny at points, and disarming, and the filmmakers seemed to want me to feel bad for him at some points.
rednoodlealien From: rednoodlealien Date: March 8th, 2009 08:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Inquiring minds are dying to know what **I** thought of it.

It was a movie, a piece of entertainment. As a movie, it was formulaic. The sweet chick who just stays in the background looking cute and offering to order dinner. The sudden inspiration to work all weekend to find that one hidden piece of information that will turn the interview around!

But I greatly enjoyed watching the characters, both Frost and Nixon. I loved the little things Nixon would do like the face he made when he said "Isn't she black?" and things like "She's from Monaco, they pay no taxes there".

I don't know Nixon well enough to feel that Langella got him wrong.

I do not take the movie as documentary but as theater.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: March 9th, 2009 06:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
I pretty much agree. I liked Langella a lot, and yes, those were great moments, as was all the stuff with the effeminate Italian shoes. My big issue with it as entertainment was that the climax wasn't believable. That's a big one, and while it doesn't entirely ruin the movie it does diminish it.

We differ in that I can't watch a movie like that without seeing it also as history. Which was what the author and filmmakers intended, or they would have used fictional characters.

Edited at 2009-03-09 06:20 pm (UTC)
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