As I said before, I have been trying to see a film once a week since the start of the year, so this is catching up on my film reviews; I saw this a few weeks back but I’m aiming to see The Damned United with the excellent Michael Sheen, so it seemed to be the right time to talk about his last film.
So, apologies for the lateness of this, but I wanted to talk about it because of the greatness that is Michael Sheen. I probably saw Underworld and Bright Young Things beforehand (I must have known who he was because I recognised him in our local Sainsbury’s when I was living in Clapham), but it wasn’t until I saw Fantabulosa! that I really took notice. He was superb as Kenneth Williams – it was eerie the way he channelled Williams, especially because Williams was so well known to British audiences through the Carry On … films. It was because of that performance that I have to see Sheen films. Well, perhaps not Underworld: Rise of the Lycans …
Frost/Nixon is the story of the interviews between David Frost (Sheen) and Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) after Nixon had been pardoned and (some of) the American people wanted to see him on trial. Frost and his producer/friend, John Birt (Matthew Macfadyen), get two investigators (Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell) to do the heavy-lifting, while Frost runs around getting the money to pay Nixon for the interviews. The two interviews are the bulk of the film, seeing Frost playing the lightweight host in the early interviews, before doing his homework for the infamous last interview.
The film is adapted from the play, both written by Peter Morgan, and stars the two leads from the stage, so they are completely comfortable in their roles. Ron Howard does a good job of bringing it to film, but he doesn’t have to work hard – he does his usual thorough job, including a small role for his brother (a trademark Howard motif), but the film is about the two leads. The other actors are good, but it is Sheen and Langella who shine. Langella got the Oscar nomination, which is completely unfair to Sheen, but there are two reasons for this: the Academy voters have no idea who David Frost is, so don’t recognise just how good Sheen is as Frost – he does a bit of an impression but he channels him when he acts rather than impersonates; the second reason is that the Nixon role is the showy role. Morgan gives Nixon the juicy monologue that actors and voters like in a fabricated scene where Nixon phones Frost in the middle of the night to have a heart to heart with Frost about their similarities. However, Sheen works harder because you can see him react, which is the much more difficult task. Apart from one scene in the LWT canteen where it looks like Sheen is doing an impression of Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan’s brilliant comic creation), he is excellent and it was a shame he didn’t get more recognition. Fortunately, he is just getting started.
The film is very good – even though it is about people talking, it feels like a boxing match between the two protagonists, with a Rocky-style ending (even though it seems that Nixon is allowing the confession to be extracted, as if he needed deep-down to apologise, rather than Frost doing anything particularly spectacular to draw it out of him). It looks good on screen (I saw it in the upper cinema at the Prince Charles cinema, which felt like a private screening room, with the seats being very close to the screen) but I think it will look better on DVD because it is about the power of television and the close-up, something the film uses frequently.
[EDIT: This was supposed to post yesterday; I thought I’d scheduled it but obviously not, hence the delay.]