Saturday, June 20, 2009

Movie Review: Frost/Nixon

I walked into Frost/Nixon thinking it was going to be a dry, 'let's watch this cos it's good for you' kinda film. I was surprised to find myself completely engrossed from beginning to end.

Frank Langella's Nixon is a fascinating exposition on a politician's psyche. He takes out the archetype and wrings it for all its complexity. I'm not sure who is more responsible for the nature of this portrayal, Langella or Ron Howard, but this is exactly the kind of thing artists should be working on; taking pieces of history and illuminating them with an intuitive light not available to those with journalistic constraints.

My favourite scene was one that never actually happened, in which Frost receives a call from Nixon. This occurs well into the second half of the movie, and Frost has spent every trick in the book trying to get Nixon to open up. The President seems completely out of Frost's league by any stretch of the imagination. The producers are facing an impenetrable stonewall, and Nixon is getting his way. He is on the road to the 'rehabilitation' that is dreaded by the journalists.

Then out of the blue, late at night, Frost recieves a call from Nixon. As Frosts stands there, not knowing how or where to lead the conversation, Nixon talks on. His old voice and hunch betrays the unsteady weight of his experience and you can just tell that he wants to let go of all the things he had long learned to suppress so masterfully.

Nixon quizzes Frost on his time at Cambridge then asks the single most revealing question in the film, "did they look down on you too?" He then devolves into a monologue, the performance of which was Langella's finest moment. The ego, the emptiness, the anger and the ambition are all laid bare, and it is truly a spectacle.

Anyone who becomes a president is hyper-ambitious. More ambitious that 99.9999% of the rest of us. They seek to be loved, they seek approval to a much greater degree than you or me. They are far more emotionally vested in their own success than we are. That is why they strive so hard on such a singular goal. Now imagine the psychology of such a person being hated by the entire country.

Anyone who has any kind of success as a politician also must love being with people, have that charm, or 'facility' as Nixon says, to get people to like you. The second revealing question comes again from Nixon to Frost; "you know those parties of yours? Do you actually enjoy them?"

A president never has a private moment, every action is under scrutiny, performed to the benefit of others. Imagine the stress of such a performance when you don't particularly like people. As a private person myself, I understand that tiredness. I feel it every time I'm at a party for a little too long. I'd imagine the weariness to be a hundred-fold for someone in Nixon's position.

The film is an excellent character study. The themes that I've described above are only the most prominent of a multifarious and intertwined exposition by Howard, the writer and the actors. There is a genuine good-hearted curiosity motivating their efforts, and it comes through very endearingly in this story. 9/10 stars.

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