Monday, December 22, 2008

Movies: Frost/Nixon

Here's one of those movies that people feel they ought to see, but don't necessarily feel they want to see. Because I allow much of my life to be ruled by oughts, and because it was snowing, and because I was sick, and because my office closed early thanks to the inclement weather, I went to see it. It was, like David Frost's hair, well-primped, but on close inspection disappointingly thin, ultimately fluffy and insubstantial.

What I'd wanted—what I'd been promised, in reviews of both the film and the stage production on which it's based—was meat: an energetic, tooth-and-claw, information-rich exchange between two potent personalities. What I got, instead, was the window-dressing around the exchange: a pretty Diane Sawyer look-alike in giant tortoise-shell glasses, a James Reston Jr. as disheveled as he is disgruntled, and a sensuous Rebecca Hall as Caroline Cushing, Frost's cushion-for-pushin' of the moment. The plot suddenly seemed hackneyed: playboy Frost has a big idea but almost loses the opportunity to change history because he's too busy partying; then, a taste of failure bucks him up, he spends a few all-nighters studying, listens to his colleagues, and makes history. Nixon, a curious cross between a raging bison and an affable grandfather, ultimately concedes in a moment that, in the context of the film, lacks the impact it had historically.

Ultimately, this film is supposed to be about the leading men's performances, but David Frost seems a mere rework of Martin Sheen's Tony Blair in The Queen, and Frank Langella (who is he?) does not define Nixon the way, say, Val Kilmer defines Jim Morrison in The Doors, or Ben Kingsley Mahatma in Gandhi. I didn't even live through the Watergate scandal, but I remain unconvinced. If anyone is successfully impersonating anyone here, it's Rebecca Hall impersonating Eva Green. A small shot does go out to Kevin Bacon for his excellent portrayal of Jack Brennan, Nixon's Chief of Staff, and who has the best (and best-delivered) line of the film: "I think a man's shoes should have laces, Sir."

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