Could Nixon apologise for Watergate? More seriously, can Ron Howard atone for The Da Vinci Code?
Just as Nixon got in the public-media ring with now TV titan David Frost to make his case, so Howard tones up with this adaptation of Peter Morgan’s play. And just as Tricky Dicky benefitted from committed cornermen – see Kevin Bacon’s staunch support here – so journeyman Ron relies on Morgan’s words and the actors who made them sting on-stage.
Morgan’s aim, he says on a persuasive Making Of, was to write “a boxing match with words”. Howard needed pros to land his scribe’s blows on-screen, so casting was a no-brainer: “Frank Langella was digging so deep,” he says on his garrulous talk-track.
Duly, the one-time Dracula attacks the role of Nixon with gruff, jowly hunger here. Michael Sheen is no featherweight either, nervy poise unpeeling Frost’s charisma to suggest the tension of a man on the ropes – which Frost was back then.
You might wonder why Morgan and Howard bring so much steam to Frost’s attempt to nail Nixon: who didn’t know Tricky D was guilty? But drama and pathos radiate from both men’s need for each other, career- and reputation-wise, coupled with the fact that only one could exit the ring victorious.
Langella and Sheen really relish this meat, such that Howard’s torrential gush about them on the commentary is only their due. They’ve acquitted him… until Angels & Demons wings in, at least.
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