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dir Ron Howard
scr Peter Morgan
with Michael Sheen, Frank Langella, Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, Matthew Macfadyen, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall, Toby Jones, Patty McCormack, Kate Jennings Grant, Andy Milder, Jenn Gotzon
release US 5.Dec.08, UK 9.Jan.09
08/UK Working Title 2h02
No holds barred: Langella and Sheen
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
A potent script combines perfectly with two gifted actors to give us one of the most gripping and entertaining political dramas in recent memory, using a momentous historical event to comment on current realities.
British chat show host David Frost (Sheen) is watching his career fade away when he gets an idea. As Richard Nixon (Langella) delivers his resignation speech in August 1974, Frost realises that an interview with him would draw millions of viewers. His producer John Birt (Macfadyen) is immediately on board, and Nixon's agent (Jones) and right-hand man (Bacon) accept the no-holds-barred terms. With American networks uninterested, Frost has to bankroll the project himself. And it doesn't help that Frost's researchers (Rockwell and Platt) think he's in over his head. Maybe he is.
Even Master of Overstatement Ron Howard can't undermine the subtlety of Morgan's astute script and performances by Sheen and Langella that peel back layer after layer as the story builds. Howard's obvious direction and pointed music queues still telegraph most of the dramatic points, but he also brings skilful big-budget production values that beautifully recreate the period. And he has a terrific eye for supporting cast members, even when they don't have much to do.
This is a riveting duel to the death between a fluffy interviewer trying to establish his career and a ruthless politician trying to justify his. The detailed build-up to Frost's very first question is edge-of-the-seat stuff, as each of them underestimates the other. This leads to some breathtakingly tense exchanges, as well as telling glances and tiny details casually thrown in by the filmmakers. Meanwhile, Morgan's script is masterful in the way it uses casual verbal exchanges to show much more interesting subtext, not to mention the fact that the entire film can be read as a present-day fable.
Throughout, the film maintains a documentary framing device, with each side character describing the events in retrospect, plus striking archival footage. And it's in the eyes of Sheen and Langella that the film comes to life, as we vividly see the triumph, desperation, curiosity and fear in each man. There are moments that chill us to the bone, plus other scenes that are exhilarating. And it's perhaps the raw power of television that wins in the end, as we see what a revealing close-up can do to someone's legacy. Although in Langella's case, it'll probably mean an Oscar nod.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
|B.J.Henderson, Cambridge, UK: "This film far exceeded my expectations. I could not see how Ron Howard was going to convert this subject to film but he managed to make it full of humour, suspense and tension. It becomes a boxing match between a 'has been' comedian/entertainer and a 'has been' politician and the prize is a career resurrection the loser gets banished to the wilderness. Langella was excellent and brought out Nixon's great strength and fragility." (21.Jan.09)|
© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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