Ever since I got back from Frost/Nixon, I’ve been browsing the internet in growing bewilderment.
I double-checked the Academy Award nominations (as though I hadn’t already created a spreadsheet, checked the odds for each category at online betting sites, and committed all the nominations to memory). I’m pretty sure that it’s not good directing if you manage to gloomily sidelight every character as melodramatically as some kid’s first short film in cinema school. Honestly, I was really hoping that Frost would get Nixon so riled up that he’d angrily flick on the lights so I could maybe see whatever the hell was going on. So maybe I misremembered that Frost/Nixon got a best directing nomination. Nope – there it is on the Best Directing wikipedia page.
Well, that’s okay. Maybe the academy felt that placing a biographical political drama in (literally, I’m not kidding here) more gloom than the Mines of Moria was an interesting directorial choice. But I absolutely must have misremembered the adapted screenplay nomination, because if you’re making a movie based on a play based on an interview, and all you can come up with to add are contrived transparently plot-railroading scenes and the most worthless love interest in biopic history, plus you decide to weirdly intersperse “The Office”-style faux documentary interview clips that yank viewers right out of the flow of the movie, you can’t possibly have fooled people into thinking it was an exceptional job of scriptwriting.
Oh, right: I always forget. Best adapted Screenplay is like Cinematography. It always has at least one head-scratcher among the bunch.
Which brings me to the real alleged crown-jewel of the film: Frank Langella’s Academy Award, BAFTA, Golden Globe, and SAG nominated Richard Nixon. Having honed the role in London and on Broadway, Langella brought a true depth and soul to his performance of the Lear archetype that was incredible to behold. But this isn’t Frost/Lear, it’s Frost/Nixon, and Langella’s Nixon was, well, it wasn’t Nixon. It was Saturday Night Live, angrily unbalanced, joke-about-sex-and-get-drunk Nixon played by a tremendous actor whose admitted talent only kept his buffoonish portrayal from veering into the ridiculously comic. But that doesn’t make it Nixon.
See for yourself:
This review is harsh because I expected more. I expected to have Nixon revealed to me in ways that felt true. Stop telling me how great Nixon is at dominating a conversation with his intellect – show me! Frankly, for the truly revealing dramatic laying-low of a powerful personality, why not just rent the DVD with the original interview on it? I just added it to my personal queue.
Look – it’s an okay movie. There are funny bits, of which I think at least one was not in the preview. There are fun wild stabs at the bizarre modern political landscape. “He wiretapped 17 people! Seventeen!” is pointed, and the very idea that a political interview can be adversarial at all is jarring to modern day audiences who are accustomed to only getting such interviews from comedians (which, maybe, means nothing has changed). Some of the other actors, Oliver Platt and Michael Sheen (as Frost himself, in particular) do great work.
I even understand that you need to add a woman to keep me interested, and you might want to ham up the Nixon a little for dramatic appeal. Film is a business, and gruff explosiveness sells tickets, especially when it’s gruffly joking about sex in a preview. But if Tina Fey can do a more accurate Nixon than your leading man, then you swung and you missed.