It’s a terrific premise: cheesy TV star David Frost tries to resuscitate his international career with a big-hitting interview with the disgraced President Nixon.
A scarred America watches with bated breath for the retribution they seek, nay need. Will Tricky Dicky escape again?
Of course, the reality may have been a tad less dramatic: Frost’s career was no more on the ropes than anyone else who endures the vagaries of television.
Nor was he really a Bee Gees-interviewing hack. A Cambridge graduate who’d been at the forefront of anti-establishment satire with That Was The Week That Was, he already had a track record of interviewing political figures and practically introduced the idea of trial by television with his on-screen demolition of insurance fraudster, Emil Savundra.
And the reclusive Nixon? Already pardoned, he just wanted a big cheque to talk, albeit one the American TV networks weren’t willing to pay to a shamed leader.
Peter Morgan’s screenplay, (adapted from his own play), nods at such truths, but also scurries over them quickly enough to maintain the propulsive David and Goliath structure he’s engineered.
Michael Sheen’s Frost is slick but somewhat one-dimensional; with the actor given so little meat, you do occasionally feel you’re watching his
Tony Blair turn in The Queen.
Meanwhile, Frank Langella plays Nixon as a wounded lion with a destructive streak fuelled by self-loathing. It’s a compelling performance, if
maybe historically questionable.
But the film’s rapid pace leaves little time for contemplation. Director Ron Howard smartly and assuredly opens up the play into genuine
cinema with astute location work and a tidy eye for framing interiors.
The period dressing, from first-class air travel to five-star hotels, is astute but never allowed to distract. And the supporting cast are all pitch-perfect.
But ultimately, for all the talent on display, this remains Hollywood ham. High-calibre ham, mind.
Slickly done and easy to watch, but not quite the commentary on modern politics it could/should have been. An historic moment becomes a film that’s more pop than culture.