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Frost/Nixon is a 2008 historical drama film based on the play of the same name by Peter Morgan which dramatizes the Frost/Nixon interviews of 1977. The film version was directed by Ron Howard and produced by Brian Grazer of Imagine Entertainment and Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner of Working Title Films for Universal Pictures.

The film reunites its original two stars from the West Endmarker and Broadwaymarker productions of the play, Michael Sheen as British television broadcaster David Frost and Frank Langella as former United States President Richard Nixon. Filming began on August 27, 2007. The film was first released at the London Film Festival on October 15, 2008, before expanding to a wider release in the U.S. on January 23, 2009. The movie was released to DVD on April 21, 2009.

Plot

A series of news reports documents the role of Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal, prior to his resignation speech. Meanwhile, David Frost has finished recording an episode of his talk show and watches on television as Nixon leaves the White House.

A few weeks later in the London Weekend Television (LWT) central office, Frost discusses with his producer and friend, John Birt, the possibility of an interview. When Frost mentions Nixon as the subject, Birt doubts that Nixon would be willing to talk to Frost. Frost then tells Birt that 400 million people watched President Nixon's resignation on live television.

Nixon is shown recovering from phlebitis at La Casa Pacificamarker, in San Clementemarker, Californiamarker. He is discussing his memoirs with literary agent Irving "Swifty" Lazar, who tells the former president of a request by Frost to conduct an interview with an offer of $600,000. Lazar contacts Frost to inform him that Nixon is interested, so Frost and Birt fly to California to meet with Nixon. While on the plane, Frost meets Caroline Cushing. At La Casa Pacifica, Frost makes the first partial payment of $200,000. However, Nixon's post-presidential chief of staff Jack Brennan doubts that Frost will be able to pay the entire amount.

Frost hires two investigators, Bob Zelnick and James Reston Jr. to dig for information along with Birt, mainly on the Watergate scandal. During the research process, Reston mentions a lead in the Federal Courthouse in D.C. that he thinks he can lock down with a week of work, but Frost decides against it. Frost is shown trying to sell the series of four interviews to the U.S. broadcast networks, but they all turn him down. Despite the financial issues, Frost is able to finance the hiring of recording equipment and a venue and the interviews begin.

Over the first eleven recording sessions, Frost is shown struggling to ask planned questions of Nixon. Nixon is able to take up much of the time during the sessions by giving lengthy monologues, preventing Frost from challenging him. The former president fences ably on the Vietnam section and is able to dominate in the area where he had substantial achievements—foreign policy related to Russia and China. Frost's editorial team appears to be breaking apart as Zelnick and Reston express anger that Nixon appears to be exonerating himself, and Reston belittles Frost's abilities as an interviewer.

Four days before the final session on Watergate, Frost is in his hotel room when he receives a phone call from Nixon. The drunk Nixon tells Frost that they both know the final interview will make or break their careers. If Frost fails to implicate Nixon definitively in the Watergate scandal, then Frost will have allowed Nixon to revive his political career at Frost's own expense, who will have an unsellable series of interviews and be bankrupt.

The conversation spurs Frost into action, as, until now, having spent most of his time selling the show to networks and gaining advertisers, Frost resolves to ensure that the final interview will be successful. He calls Reston and tells him to follow up on the federal courthouse hunch and works relentlessly for three days.

As the final recording begins, Frost is a much sterner adversary, providing damning information about Charles Colson, resulting in Nixon admitting that he did unethical things, but "defending" himself with the statement, "When the President does it, it's not illegal!" Frost is shocked by this statement, and asks if the president took part in a cover-up, at which point Brennan bursts in and stops the recording as Nixon is visibly unable to answer. After Nixon and Brennan confer in a side room, Nixon returns to the interview, admitting that he participated in a cover-up and that he "let the American people down."

Shortly before Frost returns to the UK, he and Caroline visit Nixon in his villa. Frost thanks Nixon for the interviews and gives him a pair of Italian shoes. Nixon speaks with Frost privately, asking him whether they discussed anything important the night Nixon called his hotel room. Frost answers, "cheeseburgers", and he bids Nixon goodbye.

Cast

Other real-life figures and personalities depicted in the film include Diane Sawyer, Tricia Nixon Cox, Michael York, Hugh Hefner, Gene Boyer (helicopter pilot, as himself), Raymond Price, Ken Khachigianmarker, Sue Mengers and Neil Diamond. To prepare for his role as Richard Nixon, Frank Langella visited the Richard Nixon Presidential Librarymarker in Yorba Linda, Californiamarker, and interviewed many people who had known the former president.

Release

The film had its world premiere on October 15, 2008 as the opening film of the 52nd annual London Film Festival. It was released in three theaters in the United States on December 5, 2008 before expanding several times over the following weeks. It was released in the United Kingdom and expanded into wide status in the United States on January 23, 2009.

The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray on April 21, 2009. Special features include deleted scenes, the making of the film, the real interviews between Frost and Nixon, the Richard Nixon Presidential Librarymarker, and a feature commentary with Ron Howard.

Box office

The film had a limited release at three theaters on December 5, 2008 and grossed $180,708 on its opening weekend, ranking number 22. Opening wide at 1,099 theaters on January 23, 2009, the film grossed $3,022,250 at the domestic box office, ranking number 16. The total gross at the domestic box office is $12,231,106, including the international box office the total gross is $14,596,107. The film grossed estimated $420,000 on January 31, 2009. As of February 2, 2009, the film grossed estimated $14,311,000 at the box office and $16,676,001 worldwide. The film grossed estimated $18,622,031 at the domestic box office and $8,393,048 at the international box office for a total of $27,015,079 worldwide.

Critical reception

Reviews of the film were largely positive. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 92% of critics gave the film positive reviews based on 203 reviews, with a weighted average score of 7.8 out of a possible 10. Among Rotten Tomatoes's Top Critics which consists of popular and notable critics from the top newspapers, websites, television and radio programs, the film holds an overall high approval rating of 89%. Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 80 out of 100.

Critic Roger Ebert gave the film four stars, commenting that Langella and Sheen "do not attempt to mimic their characters, but to embody them" while Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film 3 1/2 stars, saying that Ron Howard "turned Peter Morgan's stage success into a grabber of a movie laced with tension, stinging wit and potent human drama." Writing for Variety, Todd McCarthy praised Langella's performance in particular, stating "by the final scenes, Langella has all but disappeared so as to deliver Nixon himself." Rene Rodriguez of The Miami Herald, however, gave the film two stars and commented that the picture "pales in comparison to Oliver Stone's Nixon when it comes to humanizing the infamous leader" despite writing that the film "faithfully reenacts the events leading up to the historic 1977 interviews." Manohla Dargis of The New York Times said, "stories of lost crowns lend themselves to drama, but not necessarily audience-pleasing entertainments, which may explain why Frost/Nixon registers as such a soothing, agreeably amusing experience, more palliative than purgative."

Noted fiction and inaccuracies

Several historical inaccuracies were noted in the film by multiple sources, including Nixon biographers Jonathan Aitken and Elizabeth Drew. Aitken, one of Nixon's official biographers, spent much time with the former president at La Casa Pacifica and rebukes the film's portrayal of a drunk Nixon and a late night phone call as never having happened and "from start to finish, an artistic invention by the scriptwriter Peter Morgan." Aitken remembers that "Frost did not ambush Nixon during the final interview into a damaging admission of guilt. What the former president 'confessed' about Watergate was carefully pre-planned. It was only with considerable help and advice from his adversary's team that Frost managed to get much more out of Nixon, in the closing sequences, by reining in his fierce attitude and adopting a gentler approach."

David Edelstein of New York Magazine wrote that the film overstated the importance of its basis, the Frost interview, stating it "elevates the 1977 interviews Nixon gave (or, rather, sold, for an unheard-of $600,000) to English TV personality David Frost into a momentous event in the history of politics and media." Edelstein also noted that "with selective editing, Morgan makes it seem as if Frost got Nixon to admit more than he actually did." Edelstein wrote that the film "is brisk, well crafted, and enjoyable enough, but the characters seem thinner (Sheen is all frozen smiles and squirms) and the outcome less consequential."

Elizabeth Drew of the Huffington Post and author of Richard M. Nixon noted some inaccuracies, including a misrepresentation of the end of the interview, a lack of mention of the fact that Nixon received 20% of the profits from the interview, and what she purports to be inaccurate representation of some of the characters at hand. Though generally liked by critic Daniel Eagan, he notes that partisans on both sides have questioned the accuracy of the film's script.

Fred Schwarz writing for National Review online commented that, "Frost/Nixon is an attempt to use history, assisted by plenty of dramatic license, to retrospectively turn a loss into a win. By all accounts, Frost/Nixon does a fine job of dramatizing the negotiations and preparation that led up to the interviews. And it’s hard to imagine Frank Langella, who plays a Brezhnev-looking Nixon, giving a bad performance. Still, the movie’s fundamental premise is just plain wrong." The real interviews were a one-day news story and even that was mostly due to advance media hype. They uncovered no new information, contained little drama, and were unsurprising to anyone who had followed Nixon's career.

Top ten lists

The film appeared on many critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2008. Movie City News shows that the film appeared in 72 different top ten lists, out of 286 different critics lists surveyed, the 10th most mentions on a top ten list of the films released in 2008. In addition, the film was selected by the American Film Institute as one of the best ten movies of 2008.





Awards and nominations

Award Show Nominations Result
Golden Globes Best Motion Picture Nominated
Best Actor (Langella) Nominated
Best Director (Howard) Nominated
Best Original Score (Zimmer) Nominated
Best Screenplay (Morgan) Nominated
Vegas Film Society Best Actor (Langella) Won
Best Director Won
Best Editing Won
Best Film Won
Best Screenplay Won
Screen Actors Guild Best Actor (Langella) Nominated
Best Cast (A.K.A. Best Picture) Nominated
Academy Awards Best Picture Nominated
Best Actor (Langella) Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Nominated
Best Director (Howard) Nominated
Best Editing Nominated
BAFTA Awards Best Film Nominated
Best Director Nominated
Best Actor Nominated
Best Screenplay-Adapted Nominated
Best Editing Nominated
Best Make up and Hair Nominated


References

  1. http://www.movieweb.com/news/NE0Zk220M6di25
  2. Edelstein, David, Unholy Alliance Frost/Nixon’s iconic TV moment seems quaint after Couric/Palin, New York Magazine, November 30, 2008
  3. 2008 American Film Institute Awards


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