Sunday, December 21, 2008

Frost/Nixon - REVIEW

Stage-to-screen adaptations are tricky projects to pull of successfully, and Frost/Nixon was surely no exception to the rule. While plays should often reap the countless benefits of Hollywood magic (the power of the close-up, full sets, etc...), they still have to be able to over come their own, well, "staginess". Long monologues that work well on Broadway don't always cut it on the big screen, and the relatively small scale of dialogue driven pieces such as Frost/Nixon can be off-putting when they're in a medium that is often used for stories that are BIG (ie: this year's "Australia"). In spite of these challenges, Ron Howard's adaptation of Peter Morgan's Tony-winning play is mostly a success that is lucky to be bolstered by two excellent performances at its center. Taking on the real-life David-Frost-Richard-Nixon interviews after Nixon's resignation was a big challenge, and the film pulls it off all while maintaining a sense of class, and never becoming a showcase for cheap shots at Nixon and the Watergate scandal. In fact, in the context of the film, there are rarely opportunities to actually hate Nixon, and there are brief moments where you might feel, just for a fleeting moment, the tiniest bit of sympathy for him, thanks to Frank Langella's portrayal, and Peter Morgan's (relatively) unbiased screenplay (adapted from his own play). It actually helps, rather than hinders, the film in that Langella's resemblance to Nixon is minimal at best. He doesn't have to rely on makeup to make his performance work, but instead in his facial expressions, attitude, and voice. However, with all of the praise directed at Langella, it's been easy for the press to completely pass over his equally impressive co-star, Michael Sheen, who plays David Frost. Though given the less flashy role, Mr. Sheen (who was previously seen as Tony Blair in "The Queen") handles the role with subtlety, but it still given chances to shine (ie: a brief speech where he encourages his team to not give up after a day of interviewing where Nixon dominated him). The part where Frost/Nixon suffers then, is not in its directing, certainly not its acting, but instead in its inability to completely overcome its stage origins. There are moments that, though well acted, feel as though they should have ended five minutes earlier, such as in a riveting scene where Nixon directly calls Frost for a late night chat. It allows Langella to really turn up the power in his performance, but there were several moments when I was tempted to say, "and...CUT to the next scene". These sorts of monologues, though infrequent, can be somewhat awkward, despite the talented people reciting them. The film also misses the mark in its set up. The whole reason for the movie is to dramatically re-enact the interviews, and once we get there, it's electrifying. The problem however, is that the set up takes too long, and, while never boring, sometimes feels shallow. We are never given truly deep insight into the research/preparation for the interviews, and as a result, a lot of it feels like it should have been edited tighter, or left out all together. That said, this is still a well directed effort, and I ought to give mention to the cinematography, which at times is purposely grainy so as to almost blend in with the archival footage shown at the beginning of the film. Howard's direction is devoid of pretense or flash, and simply sits back and let the actors play their parts, which is a good thing, because they all, especially the two leads, do it so damn well.

Grade: B+

Nominations: Best Actor - Frank Langella(#1 WINNER), Best Actor - Michael Sheen(#2), Best Adapted Screenplay(#3)

Number of 2008 Films Seen: 46

No comments: