December 4th, 2008

monkey pirate

Frost / Nixon

Last night was the last media preview I got to attend, "Frost / Nixon" at the Grove. I grumbled a bit on the way there, feeling hurried and harassed - rushing home from work to throw some food down my neck and then dash off to the theater to see a movie I thought would surely be deadly boring. I watched the Frost-Nixon interview in my freshman year of colelge (Crikey, was that really 19 years ago?) and wasn't particularly enthralled then. I groused quite a bit when we got caught in traffic, and hoped secretly we'd miss the start of the movie.

I'm very, very glad we didn't. The whole thing was amazing, from start to finish. Without a doubt, the stand out performance here is Frank Langella. He's come a long way since Dracula. This movie isn't his first turn as Nixon, by the way - he won a Tony for the same production on Broadway. And well-deserved, in the midst of an absolutely awe-inspiring monologue, where a tipsy Nixon calls David Frost both to empathize with him, and swear to crush him, Langella is so incendiary I turned to pyr8queen and said, "Oscar." I'm sure he'll get one, too - just like I was sure when I saw Daniel Day Lewis in "There Will Be Blood".

The story recounts the first interview Nixon gave pubically after his disgrace and resignation from office. He agreed to an interview with David Frost, a talk-show host and notorious gadfly, but not a serious journalist. The movie makes the case that he picked an interviewer who could pay a steep price in a way a serious journalist never would, as well as be counted on to throw softball questions. But Frost surprises everyone, possibly himself even, by giving Nixon a worthy, implacable grilling that results in his famous admission of guilt, that he did things that were crimes, but not crimes when the President does them.

The text of the movie is timely - Nixon escaped charges for his deeds by a pardon from his successor Ford. One wonders how George Bush, who has flagrantly touted the same philosophy - that the executive can not be guilty of a crime if he is acting in the interest of the state and in his capacity as Commander in Chief - will escape judgement. Politically it's well time and superbly crafted - but what makes it a fascinating movie is the deep, deep psychological terrain that both Nixon and Frost inhabit. Michael Sheen's redition of Frost aptly displays the winning charm of a superbly confident media personality without elliding over the deep fears and insecurities that plague him. Sheen was also Tony Blair in "The Queen" - and is subtle, likeable, and believable as Frost.

The duel between the two men is one of goassamer-subtle jabs and feints, with the blurry line between genuine regard for each other and desire to win unclear to both - and to the audience. It is not blurry due to lack of detail, not like an out of focus picture - no, it's blurred because there's too much detail, like a pointilist painting seen from up close. Neither man is a caricature of their historical counterpart, and neither is treated with anything but dignity and respect - their deeds and words speak for themselves, while both actors breathe dimension, feeling, grief, desperation and bravado into their roles.

If you like American politics, see this movie. If you like deep psychological studies, see this movie. If you like deftly drawn characters and superb performances, see this movie. If you like human beings, see this movie.
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