2008 // USA // Ron Howard // December 28, 2008 // Theatrical Print
C - It's never been clear to me why the 1977 interviews between talk-show host David Frost and disgraced ex-President Richard Nixon necessitate a dramatic narrative. I haven't seen Peter Morgan's play Frost/Nixon, but Ron Howard's thoroughly unspectacular adaptation does little with the premise. Howard's Frost/Nixon is a determinedly momentous dollop of prestige film confection, surprisingly witty and wistful in the moments when it stops earnestly clenching to its historical crib sheet. Unfortunately, it rarely coalesces into anything more profound than the immediate drama of the dueling journalist and politician. Frank Langella is grandly watchable, as always, as Dick Nixon, although it takes a minute to settle into his deliberately off-center stripe of mimicry. The film is most compelling when it plumbs the shared class resentments in Frost and Nixon, and its finest scene involves a drunken late-night phonecall where all the bad dreams of a decade boil out in one monologue. More often, however, it just plods along, a curious mix of reliable plotting and obscure context. Blessedly, I recently read Rick Perlstein's epic political history, Nixonland. How might another thirtystomething fare with Frost/Nixon's breezy treatment of Watergate's minutia?