Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Ensemble Save ‘Frost/Nixon’ From Soulless Direction

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionE-mail page to friendE-mail page to friendPDF versionPDF version
Average: 3 (1 vote) Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – Peter Morgan’s play “Frost/Nixon” was a searing portrait of two men trying their best to change their image and their future. It was a head-to-head battle between a celebrity interviewer whose reputation was on a steady decline and the man credited with bringing shame to the White House.

Either Richard Nixon would “win” and come out looking like he had successfully defended his controversial actions in his last few years in office or David Frost would give the impeached President the trial that a lot of people feel he deserved.

Clearly, there’s enough drama inherent in the source material of “Frost/Nixon” to make a riveting drama, and the cast that director Ron Howard and Morgan, adapting his own play, have assembled are more than talented enough to pull it off. But something gets lost on the way from the theater to the multiplex. There’s a passion in the war of words between these two driven men that feels diluted by not only the big screen but also Howard’s weaknesses as a director.

David Frost (Michael Sheen) greets Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) and Colonel Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon) in
David Frost (Michael Sheen) greets Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) and Colonel Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon) in “Frost/Nixon”, from director Ron Howard.
Photo credit: Ralph Nelson. Copyright: © 2008 Universal Studios.

Michael Sheen plays David Frost, a man in the midst of a career crisis. He’s a reasonably successful celebrity interviewer, but he’s not taken as seriously as he’d like to be. When he sees Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) resigning on national television and realizes what a ratings draw he is worldwide, he reaches out to try and land an interview. After some negotiations, including a few rules on what can be asked and when, he lands the interview of the decade.

Frost/Nixon from Universal Pictures opens on December 12, 2008.
Frost/Nixon from Universal Pictures opens on December 12, 2008.
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

To prepare for the interview, Frost’s team, including producer John Birt (Matthew Macfadyen) and researchers James Reston Jr. (Sam Rockwell) and Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt), go to work on preparing every question and anticipating every answer while Frost himself hits the town with his gorgeous new lady love (Rebecca Hall). Could Frost’s reputation as a soft-sell interviewer be true? Could Nixon end up using the platform as a way to exonerate himself? “Frost/Nixon” builds to the interviews themselves, easily the most riveting material in the film and an opportunity for two great actors to shine.

Langella has already been laden with praise for his work in “Frost/Nixon” and it’s deserving. People who like the film clearly become enraptured with the bone-deep performance by the role of this talented actor’s career. But Langella is not alone. Sheen is very good and great character actors like Rockwell, Platt, Kevin Bacon, and Toby Jones excel in small roles.

What keeps “Frost/Nixon” from becoming more than a performance piece is the lack off three-dimensionality and depth that often marks the work of Ron Howard. He’s a classic, three-star director, a man who continues to make movies that are “good enough” but never great. The world of “Frost/Nixon” doesn’t feel lived in and that keeps the film from having the intensity or resonance that it might have from a director with that undefinable ability to make his characters pop off the screen.

Colonel Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon) counsels Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) in
Colonel Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon) counsels Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) in “Frost/Nixon”, from director Ron Howard.
Photo credit: Ralph Nelson. Copyright: © 2008 Universal Studios.

In the end, the inherent drama of the true story of “Frost/Nixon” and the performers assembled to shoot it make the film worth seeing, but it still feels like a missed opportunity. It’s a dramatically inert film because Howard is too often going through the motions instead of breathing life into the piece. It simply never feels like the people in “Frost/Nixon” exist outside the frame or before or after the credits, turning what could have been a realistic portrait of two complex men into just an acting exercise.

‘Frost/Nixon’ stars Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Rebecca Hall, Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon, and Toby Jones. ‘Frost/Nixon’, which was written by Peter Morgan and directed by Ron Howard, opened on December 12, 2008. content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

User Login

Free Giveaway Mailing


  • It's NOT ALL About You John Michael

    CHICAGO – John Michael epitomizes the art of the monologue. The Chicago transplant, by way of Dallas, is moving on (he says temporarily) from the city that inspired his last show, “Meatball Seance,” after notorious and successful runs of his other one-man shows, “John Michael and the Order of the Penix” and “Dementia Me.” His farewell performance is his latest, another laugh riot, “It’s NOT ALL About You John Michael,” and will take place at Mary’s Attic in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood on March 1st, 2019. Click here for details, including ticket information.

  • Soccer Player in the Closet, The 2

    CHICAGO – Connecting to the theater collective Nothing Without a Company means a couple of things. One, you may visit parts of Chicago you’ve never seen before – in this case a plant store in an industrial area south of Humboldt Park – and two, you will see some daring and outside-the-box stagings. “The Soccer Player in the Closet” is their latest production – a World Premiere – and it provides what the title implies and beyond. The play runs through March 17th, 2019. Click here for more details, including ticket information.

Advertisement on Twitter

archive Top Ten Discussions