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Universal // R // April 21, 2009
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Nick Hartel | posted April 11, 2009 | E-mail the Author

There has been many theories regarding the mind of Richard Nixon. Was he a sociopath or merely a socially awkward man corrupted by ultimate power? "Frost/Nixon" examines the life of this man over the course of a short, but forever changing period in Nixon's life, shortly after his resignation from the office of President of the United States. Ron Howard brings the stage play written by Peter Morgan (who also adapted his work for the screen here) to life with the help of its original stars, Michael Sheen and Frank Langella, and the result is a fascinating character study of two men from completely different lifestyles, who were forever changed by their meeting.

With the exception of the interview scenes, the viewer should realize, "Frost/Nixon" takes artistic liberties with the characters and events, but this only results in a film that leaves the viewer questioning the motives of both title characters. Ron Howard brings this story to life in a well-paced, technically proficient fashion that is a far departure from the majority of his films. Howard is often criticized as being pedestrian, and many of his films follow a cookie cutter formula, leading the viewer by the hand through the story and painting characters in black and white. Here, Howard's mastery of the filmmaking process allows Morgan's story to be told without distraction and put focus not on clever technical techniques or plot devices, but the performances of two very talented men.

Frank Langella's portrayal of Richard Nixon is nothing short of amazing. He fills the screen with his presence in every shot and his commanding, rich voice pulls the viewer into the story. This alone was deserving of Langella's Oscar nomination, but things don't stop there; Langella injects a complex humanity into a man who is best remembered with contempt. It would have been tremendously easy for Langella to play Nixon as the cold sociopath some have labeled him, but from the opening moments the viewer sees Nixon go from the still confident man, leaving the White House behind, to a dejected broken soul, trying to understand what went wrong as his former life grows distant in the window a helicopter.

Langella's finest moment doesn't come in the controversial "phone-call" scene, but at the end of the interviews, with Nixon awkwardly reaching out to a small dog for a lifeline back into the real world. Howard's take on the act is far less human, but notes that Langella played it to be interpreted as I (and quite possibly many others) did.

Playing his foil, David Frost, Michael Sheen (who was also marvelous as Tony Blair in another acclaimed character piece, "The Queen") portrays an equally complex character. Frost, like Nixon went into the interviews trying to regain the respect of the public, but in the film's final scenes, showed signs that despite gaining credibility in the eyes of the world by seemingly, "breaking" Nixon, may have very well become slightly consumed with this newfound power. Frost in many ways is like Nixon; both have to show a confident public image, but behind closed doors fight internal conflict resulting from being viewed as jokes their peers (Frost is mocked behind his back as "just a talk show host" and Nixon is reduced to sharing anecdotes at banquets). Sheen comes across as completely natural and well connected to his character; the result of having had hundreds of previous stage performances to fine tune things.

Langella and Sheen are supported by an equally competent supporting cast, including Kevin Bacon as Nixon's chief of staff, Jack Brennan, and Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell as Frost's research team. Morgan's screenplay is well crafted and absent of a single, awkward line. All in all, every part of this film is top-notch.

If you can look past the additions and dramatic changes to the story, "Frost/Nixon" is a highly enjoyable character study. Sheen and Langella show exactly how an actor should act. At the surface level they adopt the mannerisms and actions of the real-life characters they are playing, but from there, go inside and interpret what makes these characters human in the first place. "Frost/Nixon" isn't so much a story of one man trying to slay a giant, but more about two men who forever, changed each other's lives, for better or worse.


The Video

"Frost/Nixon's" 2.35:1 Anamorphic transfer is not reference quality, but still highly impressive. The film captures the look of the 1970s right down to some very noticeable grain, that at times is a tad too noticeable. Details are not lost despite the low level of lighting in many shots and modern digital problems are limited only to some minor edge enhancement. All in all, any problems a viewer might have with the transfer are most likely intentional artistic choices and not the result of poor production. .

The Audio

The 5.1 English Dolby Digital track is a well balanced mix that only gets lively when Hans Zimmer's score kicks up a notch. Dialogue is clear and rich, which is essential to the film and helps emphasize the commanding performance by Langella, as Nixon's voice is a unique and distinct element. French and Spanish 5.1 tracks are present, along with accompanying subtitle tracks and an English subtitle track for the hearing impaired.

The Extras

The biggest special feature to grace the disc is a Feature Length Commentary track with Director Ron Howard. Howard does a good job soloing the film and provides his thoughts and anecdotes on the entire production, going to his first exposure to the original stage play. As mentioned above, many people find Howard to be a pedestrian director, and while this may be true, you have to admire his passion for filmmaking and dedication to his projects, and throughout the track you can hear his enthusiasm as well as his faith in acting talent.

Rounding out the rest of the extras are 20 minutes of deleted scenes, justly cut from the final print. The majority of these scenes are merely extensions/complete pieces that were used in the final print as montages. The Making of Frost/Nixon is a typical talking head piece that was likely made for PR purposes. I really hate these featurettes as they rarely add any insight and this one is no different. The Real Interview is a seven-minute segment on the actual Frost/Nixon interviews and gives the viewer an initial idea of how close the interview scenes in the film were to the actual segments. It definitely leaves interested parties wanting to see the complete series of interviews. Lastly, is The Nixon Library, another seven-minute segment talking about the final resting place of Nixon's legacy as well as the man himself.

Final Thoughts "Frost/Nixon" is a pure character drama that takes artistic liberties in fleshing out the back-story to the famous interviews. Regardless of your politics, the performances by Sheen and Langella are too powerful to ignore and much to my surprise, as noted above, the film doesn't set out to paint a clear cut good guy or bad guy. Instead, both men end up in a grey area. The technical presentation of the disc is definitely fitting and the only thing missing are the actual interviews themselves (which are coming out soon on DVD). If you already haven't done so, give "Frost/Nixon" a chance. Highly Recommended.

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Highly Recommended

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