The movie based on the Broadway play based on the TV interviews.
Starring Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon, Toby Jones, and Oliver Platt. Directed by Ron Howard. Screenplay and play by Peter Morgan.
Nota bene: this review is based on the movie. I have not seen the original Broadway play, nor was I alive when this occurred on television.
With all that said, I enjoyed this movie.
The film takes place in two time periods: the days surrounding the Frost interviews of Nixon and some point in the "future" (sometime in the Eighties). The very beginning shows clips of footage from original news reports of when Nixon resigned from the Oval Office, as well as showing Gerald Ford pardoning Nixon for any transgressions. The American public was outraged and wanted a conviction; wanted Nixon to 'fess up to allegations of wrongdoing.
Fast forward into the future of those involved with the interviews that took place. The characters reflect back upon what happened, how almost impossible it was, etc. But what did happen?
Flash back to the Seventies and as I said before, President Richard Nixon (Langella) resigns from office before he could be brought up by a Congressional committee to find out the truth behind Watergate. He has a stroke and lays in a hospital bed while Ford pardons him, which then puts him out of reach from any lawmaker or investigator.
Cut to Australia where British-born talk show host David Frost (Michael Sheen) has an idea: get an interview with ex-President Nixon. Frost is the definition of the "Swingin' Sixties": women, parties, celebrities, and personal jet planes. He had a show in the U.S. but it was canceled. Moving on to Britain he finally settled in Australia. When he proposes the idea to his producer, the producer has the kind of reaction we would have if in the same situation: why would an entertainment interviewer/performer want to interview Richard Nixon? What would he have to gain? How much would he have to lose?
Enter Swifty Lazar (Jones), media rep for Nixon. Swifty has already made book deals and a '60 Minutes' interview with Mike Wallace for Nixon. It doesn't take long to figure out that Swifty is out for the money and coerces Nixon into accepting the interview and extorts $600k out of Frost for it. A meeting is setup with Frost, his producer, and female companion Caroline Cushing (Rebecca Hall). Everything goes well and the TV show is off and running.
Unfortunately he hits roadblocks. No American network wants to show an interview with the ex-Prez and a British talk show host and not have any control over it. He cuts deal after deal before finally getting one in which he pays everything up front. This puts him in debt with his friends.
To make matters worse people think that Frost is a "puff-piece" pushover. To solve this Frost hires Bob Zelnick (Platt) and author James Reston, Jr. (Rockwell). Reston pushes for Frost to take Nixon to the mat, pleading for him to give Nixon "the trial he never had."
What follows is one of the best "chessmatch" films. Like Frederic March and Burt Lancaster in "Seven Days in May," or Deniro and Pacino in "Heat," we are given a bonafide "David v. Goliath" fight. Nixon is calm, cool, and collected, knowing Frost's background and having a personal spin team and military officer Jack Brennan. He has nothing to prove but why he did what he did and doesn't have to answer to anyone, much less an "easy going" journalist who is paying for the interview. Frost has everything to prove, not the least of which is the fact that he has to come up with actual hard-hitting questions if he wants to be taken seriously.
And therein lies the core of the movie: two guys sitting across from each other in a rented house verbally sparring until there can be only one victor. There are minor victories and setbacks and times when either could win. And in the end one walks away victorious while the other slumps into disgrace.
Ron Howard did an excellent job adapting from the original Broadway play, but he also hired the original actors from the Broadway play as well as the playwright. And all involved do a great job. The person to surprise me most was Sam Rockwell, who fit his character better than any other I've seen him play. From this movie alone he may get more offers.
The overall feeling from this film is light-hearted, somewhat like of "Charlie Wilson's War." There are a few somber moments, a good bit of humor, and the editing keeps it interesting. And I swear that for 5 minutes Langella WAS Nixon, if not channeling him from beyond.
My grade: A