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Vol. LXII, No. 52
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

TV JOURNALIST FROST PLAYS “GOTCHA” WITH TRICKY DICK: Frost (Michael Sheen, right) cunningly tries to cajole ex-president Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) into making an admission of his guilt in the Watergate scandal that ultimately forced Nixon to resign his office in disgrace.

Frost/Nixon: Langella and Sheen Reprise Roles in Adaptation of Broadway Play

Kam Williams

On August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency in disgrace after becoming hopelessly embroiled in the Watergate cover-up. He retreated from the public eye for two and one-half years, after which he agreed to a series of TV interviews with David Frost with the hope of improving his tarnished image.

Frost, a British talk show host whose own career was floundering, paid the former president $600,000 plus a percentage of the profits for the exclusive opportunity. The investment proved to be worth the risk, because over 45 million viewers tuned in to watch the eagerly anticipated tete-a-tete. However, anyone expecting to see Nixon make an admission of guilt was disappointed because throughout the series of interviews he remained emphatic in his denial of any knowledge of a cover-up during his presidency.

Nonetheless, the truth didn’t prevent Peter Morgan from writing a sensationalized version of the historic showdown which culminates in a confession by Nixon. Morgan specializes in fictionalized character studies of historical figures. Take, for example, the two movies The Queen (Helen Mirren) and The Last King of Scotland (Forest Whitaker), both of which led to Oscars for the actors in the title roles.

Frost/Nixon, which stars Michael Sheen (as Frost) and Frank Langella (as Nixon), was initially written as a play which premiered in London to critical acclaim. It was then brought to Broadway where the hoarse-voiced Langella won a Tony for his convincing impersonation of Nixon. The screen adaptation of the play is heartily recommended provided you aren’t bothered by the fact that its most compelling moments have been fabricated.

One critical contrivance revolves around a phone call a drunken Nixon never made to Frost in the middle of the night, and another around the President’s capitulation and acknowledgment that he had committed a crime.

Unfortunately, while certainly entertaining in terms of its speculation about the awkward, mutually dependent relationship between its two principal figures, the movie feels a bit anticlimactic since, by today’s standards, Nixon’s alleged high crimes and misdemeanors pale in comparison to the mess about to be left behind by the Bush Administration.

Very Good (3 stars). Rated R for profanity. Running time: 122 minutes. Studio: Universal Pictures.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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