Thursday, 21 May 2009

DVD Review: 'Frost/Nixon'

If you're a regular visitor to the World of Stuff (and if you are, hi, say hello some time!) you could be forgiven for thinking it's primarily a blog written and created by someone who likes a bit of sci-fi. I can't deny the evidence; Dr Who, Torchwood, Star Trek, Primeval, Watchmen...all these and more in a similar vein have been visited (and sometimes visited over and over again)in the last six months or so. And yes, it's true that I am a bit partial to drama with a bit of imagination, a bit of vision, something that's escapist in the most literal sense of the word... something that just takes you somewhere you've never been and are very unlikely to go. That's one of the reasons I don't do reality TV; if I wanted to be embarrassed by real people making arses of themselves over and over again I'd...well, in all honesty, I really wouldn't want to see real people making arses of themselves at all because it's not big and it's not clever - it's just cheap. That's why British Tv does it. Whoops, wandering onto my soap box again there...

I just like Stuff that's good - and obviously what's classified as good is an entirely subjective test. But hey, my blog, my rules. It's not all wormholes and Police Boxes and CGI monsters round at Stuff Towers. I go deep too, y'know. So here I am, stunned and satisfied by one of the best movies I've seen this year, one I foolishly ignored at the cinema because I didn't think it was my type of thing. Ha. Stereotyping myself there. I've just finished watching the DVD of Ron Howard's frankly magnificent 'Frost/Nixon' and I'm quite sure I've seen one of the best movies of the year containing career-best performances from two actors at the peak of their powers.

I've only a passing interest in politics (politicians fiddle their expenses!?? Big wow!) but even I'm familiar with the Watergate scandal which brought down President Richard Nixon in the 1970s. I'm a bit fuzzy about what it all entailed and I'm not all that au fait with the fallout which rained down for years afterwards. To my shame I was also blissfully unaware of the Frost/Nixon interviews from 1977 where David Frost, one of the UK's most innovative broadcasters (who now,sadly, slurs his way through a tacky celebrity homes show) faced off against the stubborn, defiant and shamed Richard Nixon. I was unaware of the furore, I was unaware of the sensation, I was unaware of the phenomenon. I was probably watching Tom Baker in 'Doctor Who' at the time.

Howard's scintillating movie is based on a long-running stage production and casts the talented British actor Michael Sheen as Frost; not a huge leap for him as he's done a long stint in the stage show. Don't worry about the physical resemblance (or lack thereof), 'Frost/Nixon' is about the drama and the history of it, not about impressions. Sheen inhabits Frost like a second skin; he's got the voice and the nuances and more than that, he's got the fears and insecurities too. Frost put his whole career on the line by chasing these four interview slots; at one point he loses his Australian TV show, his financial backers gettcold feet and the first three interviews fail to take off when the wilier Nixon outwits him, tying him up in a sea of meandering, pointless anecdotes. But that fourth and final interview, where Frost nails Nixon with his ferocious interrogation - with the help of some previously-unpublished and hugely damning interview transcripts - turns the whole experience around and Frost demolishes his opponent and forces him to face his truth. Good as Sheen is this is Frank Langella's movie really. His performance as Nixon is the stuff of cinema legend; his Nixon is a bitter, racist, sexist dinosaur, yet he retains his oratory skills, his political savvy and a very peculiar sense of pride which just won't let him he admit he ever did anything wrong until Frost finally puts a mirror up before him and stops him dead in his tracks.

Really this is what 'Frost/Nixon' is all about. Its whole raison d'etre is that final confrontation, with Nixon admitting that if the President does something illegal it is, by definition, no longer illegal. It's an astonishing, powerful moment and the close-up on Langella's face shows a dozen emotions. Elsewhere the film surprisingly briefly rattles through the build-up to the interviews, his researcher's misgivings about a "talk show host" taking on such a formidable adversary and the reactions to those in Frost's corner - including future BBC DG John Birt (Matthew McFadyen) - as Nixon runs rings around Frost in the first three interviews and the whole enterprise stares failure and disaster in the face.

'Frost/Nixon' is pretty much unmissable, a real revelation of a movie. It's a tight, low-key film made with real passion and with the wit to leave the viewers to make their own minds up about this battle of wills. Nixon is pretty much a crushed man when he emerges from his tussle with Frost who, in turn, finds the world at his feet in its wake. Langella makes us sympathise with Nixon where we were earlier appalled by him and Howard doesn't shy from depicting the truth of a man who made stupid mistakes and made some appalling errors of judgment. 'Frost/Nixon' is just out on DVD in the UK and you need to see it as soon as possible.

The DVD itself is a textbook example of 'just enough' as far as extras are concerned. A smattering of deleted scenes, a decent 'making of', a brief but illuminating feature on the 'real' interview and a director's commentary.

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