Saturday, January 3, 2009

Frost/Nixon (2008, Ron Howard)

Diverting enough, I suppose, in an underdog sports-flick sort of way, and the lead performances are both rock solid- Langella’s getting the plaudits for his Nixon, wherein he captures Tricky’s nature despite the fact that he looks next to nothing like the guy, but Sheen’s just as good at finding a center in the professional smarm-machine David Frost. Yet the movie never really satisfies, for reasons that go beyond the typically nondescript Ron Howard direction and gratuitous faux-documentary stuff. Watching Frost/Nixon, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the movie really doesn’t have a filmsy reason to exist. While I’m all for enjoying a movie on its own merits, there are certain types of films that one must view through the prism of relevance to today’s world, and Frost/Nixon, a dramatization about a real-life political incident, is one of those movies. In other words, if one is going to tell the story of David Frost’s interview of Richard Nixon, one must successfully answer the question, “why tell this story now?” Alas, Howard and screenwriter Peter Morgan never do this. Aside from a few attempts to parallel Nixon to Bush II- attempts that backfire, I might add, considering Nixon’s misdeeds would hardly raise an eyebrow thirty years down the line, which really says it all- there’s no real contemporary “in” to the Frost/Nixon story. The best the movie can manage is to provide the liberals in the audience a kind of secondhand catharsis, the vicarious thrill of seeing one of their primary boogeymen brought down on a national stage. But even this falls flat on two fronts, primarily because Howard and Morgan buy so completely into the revisionist post-Oliver Stone view of Nixon as a lonely, misunderstood outsider in a company town, a view that comes through most clearly in the awful, pandering phone call scene between Nixon and Frost. So what does that leave us with? Some fairly shallow entertainment, but considering what time of the year it is, entertaining movies ain’t exactly hard to come by. Rating: 4 out of 10.

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