I expected to dislike it, assuming that it would –as other biographers and directors have done– miss the complexity of RN and ignore his massive achievements or remarkable career.
But Frost/Nixon hit the mark, largely because of an amazing performance by Frank Langella as Nixon, which should earn him the Oscar. I joined RN’s staff in late 1978, more than a year after the Frost interviews, and they never mattered much in the conversations around Casa Pacifica. But Langella conveyed the imposing presence of the 37th president, a presence that flowed from having been at the center of events from 1948 forward, a participant in five presidential campaigns, a maker of war and peace, and a colleague of every world leader from Churchill through the end of the age of Reagan.
The movie’s closing moments misstate the significance of Nixon’s career after he emerged from exile and moved to New York in the spring of 1980. But the film does do justice to Nixon’s intellect and hints at his greatest triumphs, and even does a fair job of conveying Nixon’s own view of his fall.
Though Langella dominates the film and Michael Sheen’s Frost does not attempt to wrestle the spotlight away, two other performances are memorable. Kevin Bacon nails Jack Brennan, and Sam Rockwell’s James Reston Jr. does a wonderful job of conveying the consuming and often disfiguring hatred on the part of so many towards Nixon, a hatred that long preceded Watergate but the full-flowering of which Watergate allowed.
See The New Nixon for comments from two men, Frank Gannon (portrayed in the film) and John Taylor (who joined RN’s staff after the inerviews) who spent more time with Nixon after the resignation than anyone other than Brennan and the former president’s family. Gannon’s assessment of the accuracy of the actual events will be fascinating, and if John Taylor comments, future Nixon biographers should clip and save as Taylor knew Nixon in retirement better and longer than anyone not related by blood.
I’ll try and track down director Ron Howard and/or Langella for interviews.