VOD film review: Frost/Nixon
Ivan Radford | On 21, Jan 2016
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Michael Sheen, Frank Langella, Matthew MacFayden, Rebecca Hall, Toby Jones, Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon
Watch Frost/Nixon online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Sky Cinema / NOW / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Adapted by Peter Morgan from his own stage play, Frost/Nixon is a cinematic retelling of the television interviews between David Frost (Sheen) and ex-President Richard Nixon (Langella). The juxtaposition of mediums at first seems absurd; why not leave what is essentially a two-hander in the theatre, where its terse encounters can have the greatest impact?
But director Ron Howard continues regardless, only agreeing to helm if the original leads reprise their roles. It’s not hard to see why: Sheen and Langella play off each other brilliantly, the former superficial but somehow layered, the latter powerful with an imposing authority. The disgraced Nixon may be on the ropes, but his calculating never ceases, determined to manipulate Frost into producing a puffball piece of sycophancy.
Three interviews out of the way, covering soft topics such as ‘Nixon the Man’, and Frost has failed miserably. His producer, John Birt (Macfayden), is not happy. Neither is his left-leaning researcher, James Reston Jr (Rockwell). There is only one session to go: Watergate. With it, Frost is determined to achieve notoriety (“Success in America is like nowhere else”) as he swans about town with Caroline (Hall) on his arm. Behind the scenes, his charming facade fades as he desperately rings round the networks to secure distribution for a deal financed by his own, shallow pockets.
Across the table, Nixon’s bullish money-grabbing is evident. Colluding with his cynical agent, Swifty Lazar (Jones), his greedy grasping often leads to laugh out loud lines: “You should marry that girl… She’s from Monte Carlo. No tax laws.” Alongside Tricky Dicky is the equally shady henchman Jack Brennan (Bacon), whose fawning devotion brings some pathos to the Nixon camp.
Morgan’s script keeps things well paced, chopping up the onscreen encounters with frantic plotting, mind games and a frequent use of boxing metaphors; although clichéd, they’re not entirely out of place, as the camera circles the two fighters in a manner reminiscent of Scorsese. Howard’s direction is wonderfully taut; at its best when only two heads are talking, Frost/Nixon delights in its lack of action. Like Clooney’s understated Good Night and Good Luck, it all rests upon the delivery of a few choice lines. Fortunately, the actors certainly know their stuff – it’s a treat to see Hall and MacFayden holding their own against these high-profile principals.
So why put this on the big screen? The answer lies in television, and what you miss on the stage: the revealing power of the close-up. James Wreston Jr puts it best: “Frost gave the public something they had never seen before: Nixon’s face, ravaged with self-loathing.” When we see the President’s mug up close, features contorting with his brief admission of regret, Peter Morgan’s dramatisation really comes to life.
Frost/Nixon is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of an £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription. It is also available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.