Langella and Sheen Reprise Roles in Adaptation of Broadway Play
On August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon resigned from the Presidency in disgrace after becoming hopelessly implicated in the Watergate cover-up. He retreated from the public eye for two and one-half years, until he agreed to a series of TV interviews with David Frost with the hope of resurrecting 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. And that investment proved to be worth the risk, as 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 ultimately left disappointed, as he remained rather emphatic in his denial of any knowledge of a cover-up during their uneventful chat.
Nonetheless, the truth didn’t get in the way of Peter Morgan’s (The Queen) writing a sensationalized version of the historic showdown which he has culminating in a confession by Tricky Dick. Morgan specializes in such fictionalized character studies of historical figures, with both The Queen (Helen Mirren) and The Last King of Scotland (Forest Whitaker) leading to Oscar win for the actors in the title roles.
Frost/Nixon, which stars Michael Sheen and Frank Langella, premiered in London to critical acclaim before being brought to Broadway where the hoarse-voiced Langella landed a Tony for his uncanny Nixon impersonation. This screen adaptation of the play is heartily recommended provided you aren’t likely to be bothered by the fact that its most compelling moments have been completely fabricated.
One critical contrivance revolves around a phone call a drunk Nixon never made to Frost in the middle of the night, another around the President’s capitulation and acknowledgement that he had committed a crime. Director Ron Howard, here, is basically offering any still-embittered, fellow Baby Boomers a belated opportunity to bask in Nixon’s humiliation.
Unfortunately, while certainly entertaining in terms of its speculation about the awkward, mutually-dependent relationship of 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.