Thursday, March 26, 2009

Film: "Frost / Nixon"

Frost / Nixon is about some interviews David Frost did with Richard Nixon after the latter had left office. It presents the interviews as though this was some kind of key event in American history. I strongly suspect they were nothing of the kind, but this does not stop the film being rather entertaining. The interviews are, in fact, something of a Clash of the Shitans, with both Nixon and Frost portrayed as rather shady characters. Frost, as played by Michael Sheen (who plays all English people from the recent past), seems particularly slimy, to such an extent that Frank Langella's Nixon begins to positively demand our sympathies – when Frost gets aggressive in his questioning, you feel like shouting "Leave that nice old man alone, you English sleazebag!"

This is a surprisingly funny film. The characters are something of a parade of grotesques, with Nixon & Frost themselves standing at the top of a pyramid of roffles. Frost is portrayed as a bit of a buffoon, and there are many chortles to be had from his vain preening and demonstrable lack of intellectual substance. The early interview sessions are particularly chortlesome; Nixon runs rings around Frost, telling drawn-out and inconsequential anecdotes to avoid dealing with more troubling issues. The film also gets much humour from Nixon's barely hidden venality.

That said, this film has its funny moments but is not a comedy. There is a darkness to it, with Nixon being played like a Shakespearean anti-hero, a man with qualities of greatness brought down by his own terrible vices. I think this is what makes him so relatively sympathetic in this film – he seems cut from a different cloth to Frost and the lesser characters, a god-like figure (with god-like faults) in a world of mortals. Frost, meanwhile, is portrayed as a more subtle character than he initially appears. He does come across at first almost like an Alan Partridge analogue, vain and needy. Later on, though, he seems more driven, as he has to hustle for financing and struggle to prevent Nixon dominating the interviews. You start to see him as a man who will do anything to succeed, a man you would not like to cross.

Like Milk, Frost/Nixon is great on period detail and does rather make me think that it would be great to travel back in time to the 1970s. I also find myself wondering whether anyone is thinking of doing a slash film knock-off.


Ray said...

I was considering going, but the fact that Ron Howard directed put me off. Also, I read a couple of articles that argue it takes enormous liberties with history, much more even than the play.

ian said...

Dude, it's a feature film, not a history book. What's the problem with the historical liberties?

Ray said...

I know, but it's a feature film that's about something that really happened, only thirty years ago, involving some very famous people... why change it?

ian said...

Mmm yeah, but all historical fiction takes liberties with the source material, for a variety of reasons. The Damned United, say, is full of fibs.

Ray said...

'strue, but (as one review of The Damned United film pointed out), when it's in a book like that, you expect it to be partial, but when it's on screen it seems more objective.