Monday, January 26, 2009

The beginning - Frost/Nixon

First off, this is the first of hopefully many reviews. I call this Middle of Nowhere reviews because I am writing out of a small town in Southern Indiana and my options for watching a film in a theater in my hometown right now are: Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Gran Torino, Hotel for Dogs, and Tales of Desperaux. No Slumdog Millionaire, no Wrestler, no Revolutionary Road, no Reader, etc. So I try to go to the theater 45 minutes away when I get a chance, but even that theater doesn't have The Wrestler yet. I could go to Evansville, but they don't have it, either. The point of all this is that even people in the Midwest want to see so-called prestige films. I want to see Mickey Rourke, not because he got nominated and is favored to win, but because I read about the project months ago. I could just download it I guess, but I won't. Films are meant to be seen in the theater, not the computer screen. So that's my opening rant: if you're as unfortunate as me, then the weekend of my review will make sense. If you're a lucky person living on the coast or in the bigger cities, then you can read my reviews with a fond remembrance of that movie that came out two months ago and wonder why some hick is still writing about it. So, without anymore complaining, my first blog/review for Frost/Nixon.

First let me point out that I am very interested in all things Richard Nixon so I may have found this film a bit more entertaining and compelling than others. That said, I also think Nixon was a great president (he had faults, of course, but the man did some great things) so my biggest concern with this is a Nixon-esque fear of how he would be portrayed. I thought that the liberal Hollywood elite would make him out to be a crazy, defeated monster. Well, they didn't. I think he was treated fairly in this film, aside from a few yelling scenes when Langella is dangerously close to a Futurama/SNL version of the man. But those scenes are very few. He is handled in this film quite like a mythological being. You see his feet before the camera pans up to him and there are reaction shots as everyone stops to watch him, people shake his hand right after saying they would never shake his hand because he is such an evil man, etc. In other words, people are in awe of him. I found this to be the perfect way to treat any president in our history. No matter how much you hate the man, you are still impressed, that's why he became president. It wasn't some kind of luck or anything, the man has presence and it can be intimidating. That is the point of this film. You take Frost, played by Michael Sheen who is quite impressive (he is perfect for looking dumbfounded by Nixon at times), who is a kind of a joke when it comes to journalism and he tries to go up against a more experienced Nixon, who had spent most of his life handling difficult questions. This makes for some interesting scenes that end up being like a boxing match (which it is referred to as by Kevin Bacon's character at one point).

That boxing match dynamic works well. You begin to judge the interviews in your head: one point for Nixon, Frost is looking dazed, Nixon is almost out for the count, etc. Howard deserves a bit of credit for turning something as boring as an interview session into an emotionally violent fight. I have heard some issues over the in-movie interviews with actors playing their parts years later. I did not have a problem with it. Yes, sometimes they were basically telling the audience what had just happened and it could be a bit condescending, but for the most part I enjoyed their commentary on what had happened and it made the film flow a bit easier. So I felt that it worked. This may not be for everybody, but I think most people will enjoy it if they give it a chance. Langella is great, aside from the yelling; he really does create the essence of Nixon: aware, nervous, intelligent, funny, awkward, angry, bitter, depressed, lonely...all of this is done through great voice work and facial expression. Even more impressive is the fact that he doesn't really look like Nixon, but you believe he is. Sheen stands up to him well, and the supporting cast is full of entertaining performances.

Is it the best film of the year? No. Does it even deserve the nomination? Maybe not, but I think it is certainly worthy of it. It's not going to win anyway, so I'm just glad to see a film about this topic nominated.

Next week: The Wrestler...maybe.