Sunday, June 07, 2015

37: Frost/Nixon

The original interviews are, of course, legendary - the moment when David Frost essentially got Richard Nixon to admit to criminal behaviour and apologise to the nation. And in this movie, Peter Morgan adapts his own stage-play version of the events to the big screen. Michael Sheen and Frank Langella play the leads and, with some artistic licence (the late-night phone call mainly) they recreate both the background to the interviews and the sessions themselves. And the movie - since its release in 2008 - has been a critical and commercial success, not setting the world alight by any means, but justifying its existence and its budget.

So why is it in the Top 40 when, say, 'Life Is Beautiful' is not? Primarily because of a couple of very well-judged, well-written and amazingly-directed scenes. Firstly the moments when Frost realises the only way it's going to get decent television viewership is by syndicating the interviews - as the movie puts it "buying a network for the night". The sheer amount of investment of both money and reputation that went into this thing was enormous, and represented an enormous gamble by Frost. And I never knew that before this film - quite how much Frost put on the line for this, and what it would have cost him if it didn't work.

And secondly, of course, is Frank Langella's performance, particularly in the climactic scenes where he gloriously and deliberately stumbles his Nixon persona to a place where he can only say "when the President does it, that means it's not illegal." And the audience of the film, even though it already knows all this and probably has already seen the original interviews, is mermerised and stunned by what is happening on the screen. To be able to do that on a recreation of existing and known filmed content - and be able to draw such drama out of it even though it's not the original - is an amazing achievement.

And of course once you've seen the movie, the next thing you want to do is watch the original interviews again. Which is a further achievement in itself.

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