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Frost/Nixon January 2, 2009

Posted by Peter Hornby in movies.
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Lorraine and I caught a matinee showing of “Frost/Nixon” on New Year’s Day.  (Aside – NINE BUCKS for a matinee! Ack!)

The movie tells the story of the famous series of TV interviews between British media personality David Frost and disgraced President Richard Nixon, interviews that rekindled Frost’s career and finished any possibility of Nixon returning to the limelight as a political force.  “Frost/Nixon” was originally a play by British playwright and screen writer Peter Morgan, premiered in 2006 at the Donmar Warehouse in London with Michael Sheen and Frank Langella playing the leading roles.  Morgan developed the screenplay for the movie and Sheen and Langella reprised their theatre roles on screen.

Unlike most US viewers of the movie, I was very familiar with David Frost and Watergate, and this presented some odd issues.

I found it very difficult to see Michael Sheen as Frost.  He had Frost’s nasal, self-aware voice perfectly, but he really doesn’t look anything like Frost, and I found it hard to get past that.  Oddly enough, I had exactly the same reaction to his performance as Tony Blair in “The Queen”.  Sounds perfect, looks – not so much.

For Frank Langella, on the other hand, you can suspend your disbelief, and you’re glad you do, because his performance is totally mesmerising.  The overriding memory I have of the movie is the way in which Langella created a person of huge power and presence.  His Nixon was physically imposing, of course, and he had the adulation and respect of his family and staff, but the way in which the character owned a conversation, owned a room, owned everything he came into contact with, was stunning to watch.  It’s a simply magnificent piece of film acting.  And that makes it more interesting, because it is, after all, film acting.  What I find almost inconceivable is how Langella took a stage performance, with its special rules and  techniques – a role which he’d inhabited in London and on Broadway for over a year (winning a Tony on the way)  – and reinvented it for film.  Where did he find the little things that you don’t need on stage but can’t live without on film – the subtle expressions, the tiny facial mannerisms of a man under huge pressure?  I have no idea. 

More generally, you come away from Frost/Nixon thinking about parallels in today’s world – the idea that “when the President does it, it’s not illegal”, and how that view of executive authority might, with any luck, rebound on the administration which has so shamelessly worked for it over the last eight years (anyone for a sequel to Frost/Nixon – Paxman/Bush, maybe?)

But mainly, you’re left with the memory of one of the finest pieces of film acting you’ll ever witness. See the movie for that.

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