Today’s unexpected holiday gave me a chance to catch up with more TV. And halfway through the morning I caught Frost/Nixon on HBO. I may have missed around 20% of the movie when I first hit the screen, but I caught the best that it could offer. My respect for Ron Howard as a director grew as scene after scene threw up duels built around words defined by character performances from actors who clearly had a strong theatrical foundation that did not compromise the screen time and vice versa.
Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as David Frost – the TV celebrity interviewer who made his career in real life with the Nixon interviews, match each other scene for scene in an almost macabre play of words. It’s the politician and the arc lights fighting for the upper hand where a slight misspoken phrase would lead to the collapse of one of the individuals with wounds so deep that recovery was impossible.
It is clear that the movie is completely dependent on the script by Peter Morgan, that was earlier performed as a a Broadway play by the same lead actors. Langella’s Nixon is charming, cunning, deceitful – but in the end comes off as a broken man for whom a tinge of sympathy is due from the public. Here is a man who broke every legal rule in the book by his actions and tried justifying them in an almost brash manner, but finally came off as a sympathetic megalomaniac – an ego that embodies every hidden aspiration of the human race. It was to his misfortune that Nixon’s aspirations were exposed through the web of lies spun.
I felt for the character and also for the real-life President Nixon who after all those years in power had to bow down in disgrace and in a retirement that was all but forgotten years later unlike the Clinton’s, Bush’s, Carter’s who continue to be in the news for the right reasons post-retirement. Talking about the movie is akin to talking about the President’s life and the adage ‘Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely’ never rang so true as in this case.