Frost/Nixon

February 3, 2009 at 5:59 pm (Uncategorized)

My parents did not want to see Frost/Nixon for the same reason I would not see W: they lived it, and it was bad enough the first time. I was 4 years old at the time of the depicted events. I don’t remember the scandal, but I *do* remember Nixon’s resignation speech on TV because it’s the earliest memory I have of my father hitting me (apparently I wouldn’t shut up).

Frost/Nixon is another movie, like Doubt, which evolved from a stage play. I submit that both would have been better served remaining on the stage. Both Oscar nominations for acting (ie. Frank Langella as Richard Nixon, Best Actor and Michael Sheen as David Frost for Best Supporting Actor) are well-deserved, though neither man will win.

Frank Langella looks nothing like Richard Nixon, though the voice and mannerisms are uncanny. You never quite forget it’s Frank up there, not Dick, which is the one difference between Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator, a performance I described similarly. I was convinced by the end of The Aviator that Cate WAS Katharine, not just Cate acting a whole lot like Katharine; by the end of Frost/Nixon I could not escape the idea that this was Frank Langella, acting a whole lot like Richard Nixon. Though I do give the guy props for the eye-twitch thing he had going on, it made my eyes itch to watch.

Overall, Ron Howard has been a director with a lot of heart. Even when he’s made a movie I haven’t liked, it’s at least had heart. This one, while I can’t say I liked it, also had heart. Sam Rockwell’s character, a jaded type who wants to see Nixon made accountable, says at one point, “How can anyone have sympathy for Richard Nixon?” Howard does try, and very nearly succeeds, at asking us to have some sympathy for a tired old man haunted by his bad choices. Nixon is very much a modern example of Greek tragedy, a man who is judged so harshly for his failures that his accomplishments (and he did have a few!) have been all but forgotten.

I saw parallels between this story and that of George W. Bush (though Bush even has the “complicated Daddy element” in his Greek tragedy), and wondered how Bush will feel in the coming years about some of his choices, and how history will judge him in the end. I tried to put myself in my parents’ place by thinking about Bush and how I will feel if some of his choices go unquestioned, if he is not held accountable…wondered how it would feel to see him on television, admitting wrongdoing and apologizing for it. Would doing that really change anything, for Bush, for us? And did it ultimately change anything for Nixon?

It is a dance accomplished without flourish or fanfare, but with some question as to who is leading, and with one of them in a pair of “effeminate Italian loafers.” One question I came away with at the end of Frost/Nixon was, did Frost suddenly wake up halfway through the process and “bring it,” or was it his strategy all along to make Nixon think he was incompetent and then hit when least expected? I thought I knew, but reflecting on the fake smiles and the front Frost puts up in front of others…now I’m not so sure. The loafers thing made me laugh though, as my ex-husband wore ONLY Italian loafers. He’d have loved this movie.

Perhaps it is because the American mind has now been trained to have a shorter attention span, and to expect nonstop action in movies. Perhaps it’s because the movie was first a stage play. There have been other “talking movies,” as my daughter calls them, which I’ve liked more than Frost/Nixon (including, ironically, another one starring Michael Sheen…The Queen). This one, however, will not win Best Picture, nor am I sure it should have been nominated.

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