A touch of Frost, a dash of Nixon

Cover of Cover via AmazonEvery writer has a passion for writing. However, certain writers have a passion or a knack for writing certain genres or niche of stories.

Peter Gibson certain genres are writing about flawed and conflicted political figures. The Queen, The Last King of Scotland and now Frost/Nixon. With The Queen, Gibson delved into the conflicted character of a monarch divided with inner conflict. It was the role won Dame Helen Mirren an Oscar and became the most talked about movie for 2006.

In The Last King of Scotland, Gibson took the audience deep into the life of Idi Amin, whose portrayal by Forest Whitaker received considerable critical acclaim, winning the Best Actor award at the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild and the BAFTAs, in addition to awards from the Broadcast Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the National Board of Review and many other critics awards, for a total of at least 23 major awards, with at least one more nomination.

With Frost/Nixon, Gibson adapts his own play of the same name and examines not one flawed character but two. Based upon the 1977 interviews regarding the Watergate scandal and Nixon's resignation, the movie is adapted by Gibson himself and directed by master storyteller Ron Howard. The director likes character conflict, just as much as the writer. A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man were both introspective looks into the lives of men against overpowering odds, and both movies that won Howard critical acclaim.

Our story begins with Nixon's resignation; a disgraced president retires to the background of his own surroundings. At the same time, across the world, a fallen talk show host, Frost, seeks hope for himself in the gloom of the former president. The story is essentially a duel between two once dominant men who discover they're more alike than either would care to admit. Both men are on the outs with their respective professions -- Nixon resigned the presidency as a result of the Watergate scandal, while Frost's TV gigs are drying up -- and need to make a comeback. Both men view these interviews as a chance to repair their reputations and get back in the game. Frost is so eager to do them that he invests his own money in it. Whereas Nixon's intentions betray him as he seeks more money than was initially offered to him. With such key story moments – though seemingly irrelevant – Howard crafts deep insights into each of the characters.

When Howard got the directing job, he immediately made it clear that the movie would not be made without Michael Sheen and Frank Langella, the two original actors from the stage play.
Sheen's worked on Morgan projects before. Both times portraying Prime Minister Tony Blair; first in 2003's The Deal and in 2006's The Queen. Though he has portrayed high profile characters, he remains primarily a stage actor, having starred in high-profile productions of Henry V, Peer Gynt, The Dresser, Caligula and Look Back in Anger, and others.

For Langella, this is a role that he has mastered on stage, an arena that has defined most of his acting career. He is best known for his success in the title role of the Broadway production of Dracula early in his career. He went on to play Sherlock Holmes in an HBO adaptation of William Gillette's famous stage play and repeating the performance in 1987 in Charles Marowitz's play Sherlock's Last Case. His recent film work includes roles in George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck as former CBS chief executive William S. Paley and Bryan Singer's Superman Returns as Daily Planet editor Perry White.

Both Sheen and Langella have portrayed campy villains. Sheen portrayed the rabid werewolf Lucian in 2003's Underworld and Langella portrayed the maniacal Skeletor in 1987's Masters of the Universe.

Already critics are showering the film with praise. Critic Roger Ebert praised Langella and Sheen's performances, commenting that they "do not attempt to mimic their characters, but to embody them." And it's true; both the actors immerse themselves into the role. Langella digs out Nixon's cunning, paranoia, failed charm and a longing sense of melancholy. It's clear that the Tony Award he won won't be the last prize Langella collects for this role of a lifetime. The same goes for Sheen as Frost; any actor can play intimidating roles, very few – like Sheen – can actually pull of intimated roles, which is exactly what Frost was of Nixon, intimidated but not showing.

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone praised Ron Howard's direction of the film stating that "Director Ron Howard has turned Peter Morgan's stage success into a grabber of a movie laced with tension, stinging wit and potent human drama." Then there are some critics who tend to compare this to Oliver Stone's Nixon, which humanized the former president's character to a greater extent. The differences however are staggering. Stone is a director that thrives on controversial moments and the inner workings of conflicted characters. Howard's direction and vision are different. He tends to pit characters against odds and situations through all of his movies. In this the characters are at odds with each other and themselves, which make for a perfect Howard recipe.

Even with its criticisms, the film was nominated for five Golden Globe Awards for the 66th Golden Globes ceremony, including Best Film - Drama, Best Director (Howard), Best Actor - Drama (Langella), Best Screenplay (Morgan), and Best Original Score (Zimmer). The film was also selected by the American Film Institute as one of the best ten movies of 2008.
Which is remarkable since the climax of this movie doesn't feature car chasing scenes, exploding buildings, or massive CGI effects shots. It is a simple face off between two remarkable actors portraying flawed and real characters.

Frost/Nixon has Oscar written all over it. It is no doubt that this movie will surely dominate the awards ceremony this year. Nominations are highly likely for Langella and Howard especially as each of them literally gives their all for the movie. Up until now, critics had been praising The Dark Knight – Heath Ledger in particular – this year, but now that Frost/Nixon is out, it will surely give the caped crusader and the agent of chaos a run for their money.

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