I found this a totally gripping, edge-of-the-seat experience, that never becomes hectoring or worthy.
Frost/Nixon picks up where All The President’s Men and Oliver Stone’s Nixon left off – President Nixon’s resignation and total pardon for all crimes from successor President Ford. What follows is essentially a reworking of the Ali/Foreman Rumble In The Jungle, with shallow TV bimbo David Frost taking on the political Goliath of Richard M. Nixon in a series of interviews, with both men’s careers, self-esteem and bank balances riding on the outcome.
It’s actually a surprisingly conventional film, in the best Hollywood tradition: taut, entertaining, with a first rate cast giving mesmerising yet un-showy performances. And despite its theatrical roots, it never feels stagey. I suppose there are two ways to do this kind of political movie: the Oliver Stone blitzkrieg of facts, timelines and camera angles, or the straightforward narrative about one key event. Frost/Nixon settles for the latter, and Ron Howard’s tight direction ensures that you don’t need to be particularly familiar with the politics of the time to follow what’s going on.
Obviously, being a political drama, it is pretty talky – and anyone going expecting explosions and nudity will probably be disappointed. (Although, unlike The Queen, this political leader isn’t afraid of a little blue language and bombing a lot of Cambodians, unless perhaps Her Majesty just has a much better publicity team...) But anyone looking for big, cinematic (and of course, in the Bush administration's twilight days, very topical) food for thought shouldn’t be disappointed.
The story has taken some flak over accusations that it misrepresents the facts, and the historical importance, of the interviews, but I certainly didn’t feel it strayed outside the bounds of artistic license. And at least in this case there is a wealth of painstaking evidence and analysis on the subject that is freely available to the public, along with whole chunks on the real interviews on YouTube.
I also feel that to say these interviews weren’t important is to miss the point. This isn’t just a story about politics; it’s a drama about people, power and the pursuit of success. And particularly about how, in a sustained battle of wills, it tends not to be the opponent with the greatest strength who wins, but the one with the greatest weakness who loses.